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Saari shows perfect timing

Finland left-back Maija Saari picked the right time to score her first international goal with the winner against Denmark, a crossed free-kick that sneaked in just as they had planned, she revealed.

Maija Saari is mobbed after her winner against Denmark
Maija Saari is mobbed after her winner against Denmark ©Sportsfile

Before Sunday, Finland left-back Maija Saari had played 30 games for her country, none of them competitive, and never scored. On cap 31, her first major tournament game, she broke that duck with a crossed free-kick that sealed a 1-0 win against Denmark and, despite appearances, it was no fluke.

The UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ hosts struggled in the first half of their opening Group A game at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki but regrouped at the break. On 49 minutes Saari's set-piece from 25 metres out on the right took everybody by surprise and sailed into the bottom left corner of the Denmark goal to eventually seal the three points. "We had talked about free-kicks beforehand," Saari said. "The aim was to kick towards the goal, then for someone to touch the ball and, if not, it would go into the net. And so it happened."

Half-time change
Before the interval, Saari's Umeå IK colleague Johanna Rasmussen had given Finland a torrid time down the Denmark left but Saari was not concerned. "I do not think we had too many problems in the first half," she said. "Denmark had the ball, but defensively we were very solid. At half-time we talked about keeping the ball more and trying to pass it around more rather than attacking too hastily."

Saari and her team-mates were aided by a noisy crowd of around 16,324, by far the record for a home Finland women's game. "For several players this was the first time they had played in front of a big crowd," Saari said. "I do not deny it might have made us a little bit nervous at the start. After all, a crowd like this is not something you have every day. Hopefully they all will come again for the Netherlands and Ukraine games [on Wednesday and Saturday] as well."