Finland came within a whisker of causing a major sensation at the start of their 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign on Wednesday as they fought out a thrilling battle with European heavweights Germany.
In a match packed with action and drama, their German visitors had to fight back three times to prevent the hosts claiming what would have been a historic, and arguably deserved, victory. In the end, only a Miroslav Klose hat-trick spared the blushes of Joachim Low's side as the Finns came within seven minutes of ending the Germans' extraordinary record of never having lost an away game in FIFA World Cup preliminaries.
For Stuart Baxter, who succeeded Roy Hodgson as coach earlier this year, Wednesday's match certainly made for a memorable competitive debut. The well-traveled Englishman boasts a vast array of experience that includes spells in charge of clubs in Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Japan, as well as a two year stint at the helm of South Africa's national team.
In the wake of his baptism of fire, Baxter spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about the start the Finns have made and the challenges ahead.
FIFA.com: You were seven minutes away from a famous win and then Germany did what they've done so many times before with so many other opponents.
Stuart Baxter: You've never beaten the Germans until the whistle has gone because they are so unbelievably resilient and efficient. They were really steamrolling us in the last 15 minutes of the game.
Nevertheless, you must feel Finland have the ability to be genuine contenders in your group?
I think that was the important result for us because I don't really the players really knew where they stood in terms of the group. Now I think they will know that when we play our own game and when we have the legs to run the game out, we can give any team in this group a go. By the same token, they would also have seen that if we get stretched out and if we don't do the things we talked about before, we can also struggle.
Directly after the game you said you felt quite devastated by the result but that you might feel pleased after you'd had some time to reflect on the achievement. How do you feel now?
Yeah, I think it feels a little bit better. I've had messages from absolutely all over the world, saying what a fantastic result it was. We were so close to a win that it feels very bittersweet in a way but, yeah, now when I think about it, had I been offered a 3-3 draw with Germany before the game, I would have taken it. .
You could actually have won the game
Yeah, we could have won it. Looking at the way we conceded the goals, it surprises me. One was from a set piece and the others were balls played into the box, into the heart of our defence. That really is our strength. We've got Sami Hyppia and Petri Pasanen and Juusi Jaaskalainen behind them. That is where we are strong. It is something we are going to have to try and get to the bottom of. In a way it is ok with me because I think we are not going to do that again, we can put that right. If it is a 0-0 game and we have no chances and can't score, I'm not sure I can fix that. But this one I'm pretty sure can put right. The failure to play normally at the critical phases directly after we scored and just before half-time and towards the end were a little bit synonymous of a team that is hoping to win but not really believing they can win.
Your next eye-catching match is away in Russia, who were unconvincing in their midweek win over Wales. Given your own performance and what you saw from the Russians, you must head to Moscow in good spirits?
I think the Russians are going to suffer a little bit of a backlash, maybe not through the whole campaign but in the beginning they are going to find it difficult to get themselves going [after reaching the semi-finals at UEFA EURO 2008]. They may think they are a little bit better than they are but they are certainly a very talented team on their day and it will be no easy job to go to Moscow. The difficult one we've got is Azerbaijan [in Helsinki in October], our next match stuck in between the Germans and the Russians. The risk is that people come to the stadium thinking it is a foregone conclusion. I will have to work very hard with my technical staff to make sure everyone is on the ball.