Pierre-Emile Højbjerg's penalty was saved by Lukas Hradecky to confirm a historic victory for Markku Kanerva's side.
Finland were among the underdogs going into the 2020 edition of the Euros, which is understandable considering the fact that they had qualified for the prestigious tournament for the first time in their history. The team’s maiden game was scheduled against Denmark, a team comprising of some of the best in the business. With Kasper Schmeichel in goal, Andreas Christensen and Simon Kjaer in defence, Christian Eriksen in midfield and Yussuf Poulsen in attack, it was hardly going to be an easy clash. However, goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky was extremely bullish ahead of the encounter against Denmark, backing the players to make their presence felt.
“We’re not travelling to the Euros just to make up the numbers. We’re not a sh- team & we’re not as weak as some think. We are capable of beating big opponents,” he said.
While many players have been guilty of simply offering lip service, Hradecky led from the front delivering a performance for the ages. The Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper helped Finland maintain a 1-0 lead earned following a header by Joel Pohjanpalo, saving a penalty from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg after Yussuf Poulsen was brought down in the box. Interestingly, Pohjanpalo’s goal came from Finland’s first ever shot at a Euro game. The keeper further ensured a dominant display throughout the course of the encounter, pulling off six saves with four of them from inside the box. Hradecky chipped in with four high claims, a punch, two clearances, becoming only the third goalkeeper to save a penalty on the nation’s debut appearance in the European Championship after Przemyslaw Tyton in 2012 (Portugal v Greece) and Trols Rasmussen in 1988 (Denmark v Spain).
While Eriksen’s collapse during the game has certainly caused its fair share of pain, Finland are off to a glorious start to their campaign in the Euros and Hradecky’s performance will definitely go down in history. Many have further termed the 31-year-old’s gameplay as one which pays tribute to Keylor Navas’ heroics for Costa Rica in 2014.
Navas helped his nation advance into the World Cup quarter-final in the 2014 edition of the World Cup, with his performances against Greece in the last 16 and the quarter-final against the Netherlands drawing plaudits. The PSG keeper won hearts with his firmness, unwavering approach, seriousness and intensity. Navas’ focus did not waver at any stage, which made him a vital foe for the opposition. In five matches, the goalkeeper conceded a tournament-low two goals and he couldn’t be blamed for either of them. The goalkeeper earned a move to La Liga giants Real Madrid on the back of his fantastic performances for Costa Rica, and the same could be the case with regard to Hradecky if he is able to maintain consistency and focus.
The Finnish goalkeeper has made rapid strides as a footballer, having never played a top-flight game before turning 20. However, what keeps him going is a desire to excel while at the same time enjoying life to the fullest. It is certainly incredible to consider that the keeper was afraid of touching the ball or making a save during matches at the beginning of his career.
However, there was a turning point in store for Hradecky who indulged in a long talk at a summer cottage with his best friends in Finland, before deciding to simply focus on being himself rather than aiming to fulfil the expectations of others. The keeper gradually emerged as one of the best goalkeepers in the Danish Superliga, playing a key role in helping the national team qualify for their first major tournament after a century of misery.
At the same time, he has a sense of humour which has steadily helped him develop as a fan favourite. The keeper was thanking the fans behind the goal after the national team had beaten Belarus 2-0. However, he suddenly grabbed a full pint of beer from one of the fans, going on to drink it in one gulp. The keeper paid back the supporter with interest, gifting him a case of 24 cans of Czech beer.
“There is this taboo about drinking beer. Beer is made to be drunk. And about the swearing: 99.9 per cent of people swear. Why do we footballers have to be more saints than others. People think I get drunk every single night but that’s not the case. Of course it is not, I’m a professional. I put Netflix on, cook some food, take one beer out of the fridge and then rest. In a way we footballers are kind of institutionalised. We have to live behind closed doors. I think it is important to be yourself and thankfully I realised that early on. Whether you are in a serious environment or not you have to be yourself,” he said as quoted by Guardian.
Fans will certainly be looking forward to witnessing some more glorious performance from the keeper.