By Mikael Erävuori
Finland take a narrow lead into the second leg of their UEFA European Women's Championship play-off on Wednesday after defeating Russia in Pietarsaari today.
The home team, who qualified for this stage as one of the two best third-placed sides in the four groups, squandered a golden opportunity in the first half after Minna Mustonen had been fouled in the penalty area. Anna-Kaisa Rantanen took the spot-kick, but her shot was well saved to the left by the goalkeeper of the Group 3 runners-up.
Finland did break the deadlock on 65 minutes, however. Petra Vaelma found space down the left, crossed into the box and Laura Kalmari timed her run perfectly to stroke the ball into the top left-hand corner. But while the hosts created several good chances in front of a crowd of more than 2,100, Russia did not have any clear-cut opportunities and Michael Käld's team stretched their unbeaten run to seven games.
Good discipline vital
Käld, whose nation have never qualified for the finals of this tournament but are now 90 minutes away from competing in England next June, said: "The players showed their character. At this stage it is not ability which is the difference between the teams, it is the fighting spirit.
In the second leg we cannot concentrate solely on defending, but we need to be well disciplined as a team."
Of the opposition, who have not missed out on the final eight for more than a decade, Käld added: "Russia have world-class strikers and it will be a huge task to stop them scoring for a second successive match. Russia, however, must attack on Wednesday and that will certainly give us chances."
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