By Pete Sanderson at Bloomfield Road
Finals debutants Finland booked an unlikely place in the last four of UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ with a hard-earned victory against Denmark.
Laura Kalmari set the Finns on their way in the sixth minute, slotting home after capitalising on a defensive error before Heidi Kackur's powerful header sent the 500 traveling Finnish fans into delirium. Denmark pulled one back through Cathrine Paaske Sørensen but the resilient Finnish defence refused to buckle under a torrent of Danish pressure as they booked a Wednesday semi-final against the Group B winners in Preston.
Denmark, who began the game knowing a point would secure a place in the next round, made two changes from the side which beat England, recalling full-backs Mie Olsen and Dorte Dalum Jensen in place of Bettina Falk and Mariann Knudsen. With an immense defensive display under their belts in the goalless draw with Sweden, Finland elected to tinker only with their midfield, winger Jessica Thorn replacing Minna Mustonen down the right as they went in search of the victory which could catapult them to an unlikely semi-final place, pending a decisive result between England and Sweden at Ewood Park.
Finland coach Michael Käld had warned his side it would be foolish to go for broke from the start but they apparently paid little attention as they sprinted into a two-goal lead. The first arrived in the sixth minute courtesy of some defensive misfortune, Gitte Andersen's attempted clearance cannoning into the path of Finnish striker Kalmari who raced clear before slotting effortlessly past Tine Cederkist.
Denmark, who beat the Finns comprehensively last time the sides met, were still reeling from Kalmari's initial body blow when they found themselves two goals behind. This time Heidi Kackur was the scorer, rising beyond Denmark's static defence to plant a firm header beyond Cederkvist from Anne Mäkinen's right wing free-kick.
It was hard to fault the Finns, their defence looked calm, their midfield menacing and their attack looked capable of breaking the Danish defence at every opportunity. Denmark finally registered their first meaningful attack in the 12th minute. A ball down the right allowed winger Johanna Rasmussen to make her first real an impact on proceedings, teeing up Merete Pedersen whose thumping header was pushed over the bar by the impressive Satu Kunnas.
Finland were still having the better of the game with Thorn justifying her recall with some superb runs down the right and Kalmari was only denied a second goal after Cederkvist's reflex save. But as the half wore on Denmark began to press, Kunnas saving spectacularly from Pedersen.
It seemed almost inevitable that the Danes would make a breakthrough and Finland's guard finally dropped just seconds before the half-time whistle when Johansen's long-range shot was deflected home by Sørensen after Jessica Julin's attempted block. It was a crucial time to score for the Danes who needed just one more goal to advance and spent most of the second-half searching for the vital equaliser.
Their most likely source seemed to be the aerial prowess of Sorensen. The forward missed a wonderful chance to restore parity in the 65th minute when she sent a clear header just centimetres over the bar. As the game opened up, Finland could have put the result beyond doubt in the 73rd minute but Mäkinen's looping shot came back off the bar. But, despite a late rally from Denmark, it was the Finns who sealed their passage to the last four.