Report as Belgium beat Finland to finish top of Group B; Finland dropped to third after dramatic final 20 minutes; Lukas Hradecky produced heroics before late own goal; Romelu Lukaku finished off win
Tuesday 22 June 2021 06:14, UK
Finland have only a slim chance of qualifying as a best third-placed finisher after their 2-0 defeat by group winners Belgium on a dramatic final night in Euro 2020 Group B.
The defeat means Finland finish third, below Denmark in second and above Russia in fourth, with the trio ending up on three points, but Finland finishing above Russia based on all three side's records without their games against Belgium.
Lukas Hradecky was producing heroics for the first 65 minutes, denying Romelu Lukaku, Jeremy Doku and Eden Hazard twice with fantastic saves, Lukaku did score after the break, only for it to be ruled out by VAR for offside.
A draw would have sent Finland through in second place, with Denmark beating Russia, but the deadlock was broken by an unfortunate Hradecky own goal as Thomas Vermaelen's header rattled the crossbar, hit the goalkeeper, and fell over the line (74).
In a split second, Finland went from second to fourth, and Belgium upped the ante to score a second through Lukaku's turn and shot from just inside the box (81). But with Russia falling apart against Denmark, eventually losing 4-1, Finland scraped into third, though they have only the slightest chance of qualifying with three points and a negative goal difference.
Belgium were confirmed as Group B winners with the victory.
Finland: Hradecky (8), Raitala (7), Toivio (7), Arajurri (7), O'Shaughnessy (7), Uronen (7), Lod (7), Sparv (7), Kamara (7), Pohjanpalo (6), Pukki (6)
Subs: Schuller (6), Kauko (6), Alho (6), Forss (NA), Jensen (NA)
Belgium: Courtois (6), Boyata (6), Denayer (6), Vermaelen (7), Trossard (6), De Bruyne (7), Witsel (6), Chadli (6), Doku (7), Hazard (6), Lukaku (7)
Subs: Meunier (NA), Batshuayi (NA), Benteke (NA), Vanaken (NA)
Man of the match: Lukas Hracecky
Lukaku should have done better with a glancing header in the first half, before Doku saw a low shot brilliantly tipped away by Hradecky, but Belgium were kept at arm's length by a stubborn Finland in the first 45.
Belgium knew they would top the group with a draw, while Finland needed a win to finish second, or a draw if Russia lost in Copenhagen against Denmark.
As expected, Belgium dominated the ball in the first half, but Finland's back five stood firm, reducing them to only two clear-cut chances.
Kevin De Bruyne's wonderful ball from the left was perfect for the head of Lukaku eight yards out, but the striker glanced his header straight at Hradecky.
Hradecky was forced into action again shortly after as 19-year-old forward Doku cut onto his right foot from the left flank, but was denied down low to the right by a fine fingertip stop from the goalkeeper.
But with Denmark ahead against Russia at half-time, Finland were going through as the second-placed side, with the Danes third.
Hradecky continued his heroics after the break as he stopped Hazard's low shot from a clever De Bruyne corner, before producing a quite magnificent stop to deny Hazard again low down to his left after he was found in the box by Axel Witsel.
Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Hradecky was eventually beaten on 65 minutes after Lukaku slotted low past him having been found through goal, but VAR intervened to find the Inter Milan striker inches offside.
But having kept Finland in the game for so long, Hradecky's own goal finally gave Belgium the lead. Vermaelen rose well to meet a corner, hitting the crossbar, but the ball deflected off the squirming hand of Hradecky and over the line.
Belgium made eight changes from the win over Denmark as Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Meunier, Dendoncker, Tielemans, Thorgan Hazard, Mertens and Carrasco dropped out, replaced by Boyata, Vermaelen, Trossard, De Bruyne, Witsel, Chadli, Eden Hazard and young Jeremy Doku.
Finland made one change from the side that lost against Russia, bringing in captain Sparv for Schuller.
It meant that in a split second, with Denmark beating Russia 2-1, Finland had gone from second place to fourth.
Belgium scored a second as Lukaku turned well and struck low past Hradecky, his 10th goal for the Red Devils at a World Cup or Euros, but Russia capitulated in Copenhagen, conceding two more, meaning Finland finished above Russia by virtue of goals for and against in games between Denmark, Finland and Russia.
However, their chances of finishing as one of the best third-placed finishers are extremely slim, on a night where the maths skills of Markku Kanerva, a former teacher, would have come in handy.
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez: "We were really focused, professional. We defended very well and waited for the first goal. We knew that would open everything up. We were almost there in the first half but we adapted to a difficult team. Finland have had a great tournament, and we had to be at our best to get the win today."
On Trossard and Doku getting their minutes in the Euros: "I'm really happy, because it didn't look like they were playing their first minutes. Trossard played in a different position but had a big impact. Doku is a young player who looks like he's been at this level for many years."
Finland boss Markku Kanerva: "I'm very proud of the work ethic my players showed today. You saw the quality of Belgium, but I'm extremely proud of the way my players fought. We also created a couple of chances, but those shots were blocked, unfortunately.
"We were a little unlucky with the first goal. I'm disappointed we couldn't get a point. We now have a little, little chance of going through, but I'm proud of our performance in the tournament. We showed we belong here.
"We have to keep developing and there are many areas in which we must improve, such as cutting out simple errors in our play. We had good moments in the game. You have to ask what are your expectations against the best team in the world. Our aim is to develop and we are working hard to get better."
Belgium will play their round-of-16 clash on Sunday June 27 at 8pm in Seville, while Finland must wait to see if their slim hopes of reaching the round of 16 come to fruition.