World champions France suffered a shock home defeat to Finland in their latest friendly, going down 2-0 at the Stade de France following goals from debutants.
France dominated the early proceedings and almost took the lead through a debutant of their own, Marcus Thuram, but his free header from a corner came back off the bar.
They would live to regret it as Finland struck twice in three minutes to take a 2-0 lead against the run of play. Brentford’s Marcus Forss opened the scoring, firing past Steve Mandanda at the near post after Moussa Sissoko lost the ball in midfield and the visitors launched a swift counter-attack.
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Onni Valakari - like Forss making his debut aged 21 - then added a second in style, cutting in on his left foot and rifling into the top corner from 25-yards out.
Finland qualified for their first-ever major tournament last year, and tonight’s events should give them plenty of confidence ahead of the postponed Euro 2020. They did create little of note after taking a two-goal advantage, it should be noted.
There was plenty of huffing and puffing in the second half from the French, but they could not blow the Finnish defence down and discipline from those in white shirts won out.
Antoine Griezmann, Anthony Martial and N'Golo Kante were brought on in as a triple substitution, but France could still not turn possession into many clear-cut chances, aside from a golden chance for Griezmann in injury time which he fired wide, and Finland held on to beat Les Bleus for the first time in their history.
Finland pick up a major scalp ahead of major-tournament bow. It would be easy to focus on France’s deficiencies - and they were both under-strength and underwhelming - but tonight belongs to Finland. They were by no means at maximum strength either, but the young team rose to the occasion and produced a disciplined, clinical performance.
What will be particularly pleasing to manager Markku Kanerva is the identities of the two scorers. Both Forss and Valakari were fearless on debut, and at 21 are poised to only get better. Being able to add players like this to what was already one of Finland’s best-ever teams could be huge both for next summer and further ahead. Adding more goalscorers to the side and becoming less reliant on Teemu Pukki is also important, so it’s hard to imagine how this could have gone much better for the Finns.
Come Euro 2020, if Finland are to have any success, they most likely will need to play more matches where they have to absorb pressure and deal with the opposition dominating possession. They did that brilliantly tonight, so there’s yet another positive for Kanerva to take. Once behind, it was stunning how few good chances France created despite the talent among their ranks. This was no fluke - Finland deserved the win. It won’t be easy, but tonight offers a clear template for how Finland can make some noise at their European Championship debut.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Onni Valakari (Finland). He appeared to be loving it out on the Stade de France pitch, and why not? Valakari put a good shift in defensively, like the entire Finnish team, but it was while on the ball that he really made his presence felt. His goal was brilliant - a superb strike - and his left foot looks a real weapon. This certainly won’t be his last international appearance, and Valakari could well have played his way into Finland’s team for Euro 2020 tonight.
15’ - OFF THE BAR! Thuram wins a corner and then rises highest to head Digne's cross onto the bar! It was a powerful header - so close for the debutant.
28’ - GOAL! France 0-1 Finland (Forss). Wow, Finland lead from nowhere! Sissoko loses possession, the visitors spring a counter-attack and Forss is played through, holds of Lenglet and fires past Mandanda.
31’ - GOAL! France 0-2 Finland (Valakari). What a goal! The other Finnish debutant shifts the ball onto his left foot, 25 yards out, and unleashes a fierce shot which arrows into the top corner!
79’ - MISS! Martial stands up his marker and chips a pass to Kante, 12 yards from goal, but he volleys wide. Great chance wasted.
90+3’ - MISS! Martial tees up Griezmann, who controls brilliantly but then inexplicably shoots wide when a goal appeared likely.
France: Mandanda 5, Dubois 7, Zouma 5, Lenglet 5, Digne 6, Sissoko 4, Pogba 5, Nzonzi 6, Thuram 6, Giroud 5, Ben Yedder 5. Subs: Griezmann 5, Martial 6, Kante 6, Aguilar 6, Varane 5.
Finland: Joronen 7, Vaisanen 7, Ojala 7, O’Shaughnessy 7, Niskanen 7, Valakari 8, Schuller 7, Kauko 6, Hamalainen 7, Karjalainen 6, Forss 8. Subs: Toivio 7, Alho 6, Kamara 6, Taylor 6, Arajuuri 6, Pukki 6.
- Finland’s starting line-up had scored only three senior international goals before tonight - Olivier Giroud had 42 alone.
- The Thurams are then seventh father-son duo to represent France.
- France had won all eight of the previous meetings between the two countries.
- This ends a 12-game unbeaten run for the French.