It may have taken more than 100 years but Finland has finally qualified for its first major soccer tournament.
The Finnish men’s team will head to the UEFA Euro 2020 finals next summer after beating Liechtenstein 3-0 at home in Helsinki to finish second, behind Italy, in Group J.
Since the inception of its football federation in 1907, Finland has tried and failed to reach either the World Cup or European Championships – but on Friday night the breakthrough came at last.
Speaking to reporters after his side’s epic achievement, head coach Markku Kanerva thanked everyone who had helped contribute to “our wonderful journey and the fulfillment of this generational dream.”
He added: “There was pressure and the expectations were high. The players endured them well and I am extremely proud of the team.”
Two goals from star striker Teemu Pukki, who plays for Norwich in the English Premier League, added to Jasse Tuominen’s opener to seal an historic win, and prompt the celebrations.
Finnish fans poured onto the pitch after the final whistle and Finland’s Prime Minister Antti Rinne was quick to send his congratulations, tweeting: “Congratulations and thank you! Oh Finland, oh Finland is, oh Finland is finally in the men’s soccer championship!”
Finland, ranked 55 in the FIFA world standings, was the last of the Nordic nations to finally reach a major tournament.
With ice hockey and motorsport among its most successful sports, football was frozen out in Finland – but at last the thaw has begun.
Germany reach record finals
Three-time winners Germany also booked their place in a record 13th straight Euros with a 4-0 victory over Belarus, Saturday.
Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos added two goals as he approaches what he has said could be his last tournament for the national side.
Also qualifying from Group C were the Netherlands, following a goalless draw against Northern Ireland. A missed penalty from captain Steven Davis was costly for Northern Ireland who must now rely on the play-offs to get through.
Croatia and Austria also progressed Saturday – but there are still eight automatic places to be settled in the final rounds of qualifying.