Kanerva’s Käll vindicated as GAWA defeated

Finland beat Northern Ireland 1-0 to earn their first points this UEFA European Championship Qualifying (ECQ) campaign, ending a run of three consecutive away H2H defeats.

There was plenty of patient play in the opening encounters, with Northern Ireland coming closest to an early goalscoring opportunity. The incoming Jordan Thompson’s pass trickled invitingly across the face of goal before Nikolai Alho beat Conor Washington to the ball and cleared. The hosts had a scare when Craig Cathcart let Ciaron Brown’s pass go under his boot, but the captain recovered with a well-timed tackle on Teemu Pukki that started a move culminating in Conor Bradley setting up Dion Charles for an opportunity that was struck over.

The Green and White Army had grown in confidence as the half progressed, but still found themselves behind shortly before the half-hour mark. Robin Lod’s cross found Benjamin Källman via a mishit Pukki shot, and the Cracovia striker clinically finished for the fourth goal in his last five international appearances. Källman hadn’t played in any of Finland’s last three matches but was causing problems at Windsor Park, setting up a chance for Pukki who saw an effort blocked by Daniel Ballard and his follow-up saved. Lukáš Hrádecký made an equally important intervention at the other end after Bradley released D. Charles again.

Both teams lost a defender due to injury early in the second half, and after Josh Magennis was brought on for Ballard, the frontman failed to keep his effort down when Bradley intelligently knocked the ball down to him. Northern Ireland persistently pushed forward and thought they had their reward when D. Charles latched onto Hrádecký’s unconvincing punch and finished, but the celebrations were cut short due to a handball from the Bolton Wanderers striker.

While Robert Ivanov wasted a big opportunity, he was part of Markku Kanerva’s strong backline that defended resolutely to end Finland’s five-game winless run as they joined Northern Ireland, Denmark and Kazakhstan on three points behind Slovenia in Group H. Michael O’Neill will be disappointed that his side isn’t ahead of the chasing pack, with this being just the second loss in the Green and White Army’s last eight competitive home matches.

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