HELSINKI (AP) — A party decades in the making finally erupted in Finland after its national team qualified for a major soccer tournament for the first time on Friday.
Finland beat Liechtenstein 3-0 in Helsinki to secure a place in next year’s European Championship and end decades of embarrassments, disappointments, and near misses on the international stage.
The victory guaranteed second place for the Finns behind Italy in Group J of Euro 2020 qualifying with a game to spare.
Flag-waving home fans poured onto the field at the final whistle — they gave high-fives, embraced each other and congratulated the players — and fireworks exploded around the Telia 5G-aerena
Jasse Tuominen scored in the first half and Teemu Pukki, the team’s most celebrated player, added two goals after halftime in front of Finland’s jubilant fans.
Better known for its ice hockey team, rally drivers, and javelin throwers, Finland — a nation of around 5.5 million people — was the only major Nordic country to have failed to reach a World Cup or European Championship in soccer.
The class of 2019 achieved what Finland’s so-called golden generation — including Jari Litmanen and Sam Hyypia — failed to do around the turn of the century. Litmanen was in the stadium on the historic night.
The team is coached by Markku Kanerva, a former primary school teacher who inherited a side that had gone all of 2016 without a competitive win. He has made Finland hard to beat and defensively strong — and has a goal-scoring poacher in Pukki, who has nine goals in nine games in qualifying.
The win was expected to spark wild celebrations across Finland, where soccer has been high on the sporting agenda this year because of the team’s success.
Finland is the 34th different national team to qualify for the Euros.