Russia beat Finland 1-0 in a Group B Euro 2020 match thanks to a Aleksei Miranchuk wonder goal and keep their knockout chances alive.
The permutations and combinations in league stages of a football tournament are a fair but slightly cruel way to determine any team’s fate. The way Euro 2020 is structured means teams will be keeping an eye on relevant statistics. More often than not, teams hope they can avoid having to avoid the “X must beat Y by Z goals” type of situation. Yet, as things stand, at least one group – Group B – seems headed for a grandstand finish. Russia beating Finland 1-0 in their second group match saw to that. The win means three teams now have at least one win each. What happens in the final round of games will be interesting to watch.
A team can finish third and still qualify for the knockouts. However, a third place finish is no guarantee of a place in the next round; that is true only for the top 2 teams in each group.
Having said that, it is fair to say there will now be a major scramble in the final gameweek to finish in the top 2. Especially since at least three teams, as of this writing, have the chance to do so.
Finland managed a win on debut in the Euros, although the nature of that win is disputed at best. They played a Denmark side still shook by Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest and subsequent hospitalisation.
Here they faced a Russia side that, while not a heavyweight, proved in 2018 they can cause an upset or two. And that is exactly what happened here.
Bear in mind, this is the same Russia side that were comprehensively beaten by Belgium in their opening Euro 2020 game. Coming into this game, there existed a feeling that Finland might just sneak another win. Sadly, that wasn’t to be the case.
Finland started the game brightly enough, and thought they had the lead in the second minute itself. Striker Joel Pohjanpalo’s brilliant flying header had the Finns in rapture.
Their joy was, however, short lived. The goal was correctly ruled out for offside, as replays showed the striker was margianlly ahead of the last defender.
That didn’t deter the Finns though, as they continued to attack whenever they got the chance. Amazingly, so did the Russians. As such, the game was open ended but lacked a goal.
Aleksandr Golovin looked lively on the ball for Russia, and he seemed their likeliest goal threat. But the Russians were solid at the back too, seeing out Finland’s attacks, even managing the odd last-ditch tackle.
However, as the half wore on, it seemed unlikely a goal would come soon. But there were six minutes added on due to an injury suffered by Russian right-back Mario Fernandes.
That time was enough for Aleksei Miranchuk to manufacture a goal from almost nothing. He received the ball inside the box and his shooting lanes were shut off by defenders.
Undeterred, he moves the ball slightly wide with his left foot and curls one into the top right corner. Psychologically, there is arguably no better time to score than before the end of the first half.
Indeed, the Finns looked deflated going off, despite them arguably being the better team for the most part.
Yet despite both sides arguably needing a goal, the second half lacked in quality. Finland were again on the front foot, as the Russians chose to sit deep and defend their slim lead.
It was a risky strategy, but it paid off – they managed to stifle the Finns, who kept the ball but did little of note with it. Golovin continued to threaten for Russia when they did get forward, but that wasn’t often.
Indeed, one couldn’t help but get a sense of knowing where the match was heading – a Russia win. That is exactly what happened, even if they had to play an additional 6 minutes hanging on for dear life.
The final round of fixtures will be interesting. Finland will face their toughest test of the group stages when they take on a star-studded Belgium.
Russia, meanwhile, take on a Denmark side that will be missing arguably their most influential player in Eriksen. Grab your calculators and get ready for those matches, because they will be decided by the finest of margins.