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Finland seek improvement against Slovakia

Captain Maija Saari and coach Andrée Jeglertz say Finland must improve on their 1-0 win in Slovakia when they meet again but the visitors believe they can turn the tables.

Maija Saari (left) up against Slovakia's Lucie Haršányová on Saturday
Maija Saari (left) up against Slovakia's Lucie Haršányová on Saturday ©SFZ

Finland captain Maija Saari hopes for an improved performance and more goals against Slovakia as the UEFA Women's EURO 2013 qualifying Group 5 rivals meet for the second time in five days.

A last-gasp own goal by Eva Kolenová gave Finland a 1-0 away win on Saturday and moved the unbeaten side level with Slovakia and Belarus at the group summit with a game in hand. Another victory in Vantaa on Thursday would leave the 2009 quarter-finalists in clear control of the section but Saari, whose team also still have to play Ukraine twice, knows that will not be easy.

"[Slovakia] were very tough," she said. "I was a little bit surprised, that they were so physically strong. We have to be at our best to beat them. I expect a pretty similar game on Thursday, a lot of one against one. I hope we will play more consistently for the whole game and score more goals too."

Coach Andrée Jeglertz knows the match could go a long way to deciding if Finland make next summer's finals in his native Sweden. "It is going to be a really important game," he said. "Slovakia are very disappointed about the loss but they are still very tough opponents for us.

"We need to play at the same level as we did in the second half on Saturday for the whole game. If we manage to play like that, I think we have a good chance of winning. Otherwise we are going to get beaten.

"I have always said that you need to win at home and at least get a draw in the away games. And to win an away game against maybe the toughest opponents in the group, as it seems to be, is going to help us a lot in qualification."

Slovakia's players were reduced to tears by the heartbreaking finish in Senec and coach Zsolt Pakusza hopes they can put that behind them. "We have to forget the last game, wake up to the new day and play again. We have to improve in defence and focus on the mistakes we made in the previous match.

"Of course [Finland] are favourites for this group, but we believe we can get a better result in Finland. I do not want to be immodest, but I know the ability of my team. We are capable of playing an even game with them and with a piece of luck we could win. Our goal is to bring some points back home."

Having never even made a women's play-off before, Slovakia will have a real chance of qualification with a good result in Finland, and proof of the sport's growing popularity was the fact that for the first time Saturday's match was shown live on national television.

"It could help our sport to grow, to gain more attention and it is a huge motivation for players as well," Pakusza said. "So we want to keep our chances in this qualifying campaign alive as long as possible."

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