Finland’s history-makers, in their coach’s words
Finland competing in their first-ever FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup
Debutantes beat England and the Netherlands en route
Coach Marko Saloranta outlines their key attributes
Even before a ball is kicked, Finland are one of the stories of this year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
They are, after all, the tournament’s only debutantes, and arrive with a giant-killing pedigree after beating England and the Netherlands to qualify. The Finns are also in one of the tournament’s most intriguing and open sections, having been drawn with U-17 Women’s World Cup regulars Ghana and New Zealand and the competition hosts, Uruguay.
“I had been hoping before the draw that we would get Uruguay,” coach Marko Saloranta told FIFA.com. “That kind of experience, of playing in front of a big crowd, is always a great experience for young players. We had it at the EURO too and I’m looking forward to it again – even if the fans won’t be cheering for us!”
But what can those supporters in Uruguay, and those following the tournament around the world, expect from the Finnish newcomers? We asked Saloranta to give us the lowdown on his team.
“First and foremost, we have good players. This is a very strong generation of Finnish players and we already knew three years ago that we had some great ability in this age group. If people are wondering what the secrets are to our success, that is definitely the most important ingredient.”
“Playing the best teams doesn't faze my players at all. In the UEFA development tournament we played in England before the EURO , we played England themselves, Spain and Italy, and then in qualification we played Sweden, France and Scotland. We also had games against Iceland, Sweden and the Netherlands. Then at the EURO itself, we had to play Germany, the Netherlands, England and Spain. Pretty tough!
“By the time we played England (in the third-place play-off that secured qualification), the players had the belief that they could compete - even after going 1-0 down. In the end, we deserved to win. Mentally, this team has shown itself to be strong. It has been a problem in the past for Finnish teams - men’s and women’s - that we are almost beaten before we even start against world-class opponents because we go in thinking of ourselves as the little team. With these players, I don’t see that. I never sense any fear, regardless of who we’re playing. They go out to win against these big teams, not just to survive. That should really help us at the World Cup.”
“You can expect to see something a little bit different to Finnish teams you might have seen in the past. In almost all of our games, we dominate possession. It’s definitely not a case of parking the bus and defending deep with nine or ten players and looking to counter-attack.
"We try to control games and, even against the top teams, we look to win the ball back as quickly as possible and play a really aggressive style. We are not the strongest side physically – we have a lot of small, skilful players – but we have been quite successful in playing this dynamic style and producing a lot of good combination play.”