Teemu Pukki is now one step closer becoming the Finland’s all-time top scorer.
Norwich-striker netted on Saturday 9th October his 31. international goal, as Finland lost home 1-2 against Ukraine in the World Cup qualifiers for the 2022 Qatar tournament. Visitor’s decisive goal was scored in the first half by the Benfica-forward Roman Yaremchuk.
Yaremchuk also delivered an assist for Andriy Yarmolenko’s opening goal. The goal was his third on six games in the qualifiers.
The previous meeting in the qualifiers between the teams had been a 1-1-draw at Ukraine.
With his goal Pukki broke his scoreless drought. Finland’s number one forward had been for last five competitive international games.
Pukki is just one goal short of reaching Jari Litmanen’s goal record. His next chance to break it will be on Tuesday against Kazakhstan.
Pukki ,31, made his international first team debut October 2011 in a friendly against Latvia. Experienced striker has featured after his first appearance in 97 International fixtures.
It was the first international game with almost full capacity of the newly renovated Olympic Stadium. Released by Covid-restrictions, nearly 30 000 fans had arrived Helsinki to support the hosts in their important qualifier tie.
The stadium extension took four years starting and was unveiled in August 2020. Because the world pandemic full capacity of the extension couldn’t have been used in previous events.
On Finland’s home game last month against Kazakstan, the stadium could be filled up only partly.
Finland manager Markku Kanerva made a surprising choice starting Thomas Lam in a holding midfielder role covering the defence on 3-5-2-formation. CSKA Sofia player was a replacement call for Kaan Kairinen, who suffered an injury before the qualifiers.
Finland was also missing couple their key members from the Euro’s squad. Left back Jere Uronen, Brentford-striker Marcus Forss and centre half Daniel O’Shaugnessy were all absent because of their injuries.
Ukraine had to cope without their left back Oleksandr Zinchenko. The Manchester City -man was suffering from injury.
Finland started the game well and achieved their first chance in first two minutes. Pukki delivered the ball inside the box and he’s shot was blocked by visitor defender. Robin Lod made it to the rebound, which Andriy Pyatov saved easily.
Soon after Ukraine took the lead. In the fourth minute Andriy Yarmolenko swiped easily past Lam and slotted a right footed outside the box in the back corner.
After the goal either of the teams didn’t have possession. In the 15th minute Ukraina was close to score the second one. Victor Tsygankov dropped a ball from left wing at the middle, but Roman Yaremchuk missed his chance.
Middle of the first half Finland started to create chances. In the 28th minute Huuhkajat finally found their equaliser from the corner. Pyatov parried Joel Pohjanpalo’s header at the post, but it was deflected of Pukki’s body in the net making the score 1-1.
The goal was Pukki’s 31st for the National team. He is now just one goal short from Finland’s all-time scorer Jari Litmanen’s record.
Finland couldn’t cheer getting even too long before Ukraine broke their defence again. Tsygankov made a break from the right wing and swiped to Yaremchuk. The striker didn’t miss his attempt and Ukraine took their lead back before break.
Finland’s problems in the first half were in the defence. The centre backs were frequently out of their position leaving Ukraine lots of space to pass in the pockets.
Ukraine was dominating first half statistics. The visitors won the possession 52-48, shots 9-4 and expected goals 0,92-0,45.
Their lead was completely deserved.
Start of the second half Ukraine was making the more chances, but they didn’t cause much trouble to the hosts.
After than hour Finland suffered their next set back. Injured right back Nikolai Alho had to leave the game for injury and Nicholas Hamalainen replaced him. Urho Nissila was also brought in for Lam to create more attacking threat.
Nissila had his first chance soon after from a freekick just behind the box. His shot though floated badly over the net to the stands.
In last minutes Kanerva made two more substitutions for Finland. Pohjanpalo came off for HJK-forward Roope Riski ja Dundee United winger Ilmari Niskanen replaced Jukka Raitala in the left wing-back role.
Subbing Pohjanpalo was a controversial decision. His heading ability and physicality to break inside box would have been vital factors, as Ukraine was defending tight and deep keeping the space minimal.
With 10 minutes left to play, Finland started to become more active again chasing the equaliser. In the 84th minute the hosts made their final effort to settle the score. Robin Lod tried his luck. He didn’t get enough power for the short and Pyatov made an easy save.
Ukraine also had one more opportunity in the added time, but Finnish keeper Lukas Hradecky kept his stance, and no more goals were scored.
The game was statistically quite even. Finland won the possession 54-46, but Ukraine made remarkably more shots 16-11.
With created chances Ukraine made 15 against Finland’s four with a 1.49 expected goals rate. That was the biggest difference between the two sides.
In other game of the Group D Bosnia and Herzegovina beat Kazakhstan by 2-0. Because the result Finland dropped down fourth in the group one point behind Bosnia. Ukraine is now on second place four points behind the group leaders France.
Finland will continue their race qualifiers on Tuesday 12. October with an away trip to Kazakhstan. Ukraine will play against Bosnia at home.
Second placed team of the club will progress to the qualifier playoffs. Only the group winners will qualify straight to the World Cup.