Northern Ireland, who are struggling to qualify for Euro 2024, found little respite from the cold temperatures in Helsinki. They suffered their seventh loss of Euro 2024 qualification campaign with a 4-0 defeat by Finland.
Michael O’Neill’s injured side began well, but fell apart after Joel Pohjanpalo’s late-first-half penalty. Daniel Hakans’, Teemu pukki’s and Robin Lod’s second-half goals added to the misery.
Northern Ireland has only won three games in their last 16, and scored only in three out of nine qualifying matches in this campaign. Two of these were victories against San Marino, a minnow.
The young and inexperienced team played some promising football during the first-half, but they lacked any cutting edge to win any rewards. They were punished by the play-off-bound hosts who broke a losing streak of three games that had costed them their automatic qualification.
Last time Northern Ireland was in Helsinki, in October 2015, they just had booked their tickets to Euro 2016. This time around they are without twelve injured players and O’Neill has to look further into the limited number of players in his nation.
Ross McCausland made his Rangers debut at the weekend. He was called up to the Rangers squad from the under-21s on Monday due to an injury suffered by Paul Smyth. McCausland started in front of Conor McMenamin, becoming the 32nd O’Neill player to be used this season.
It looked like a wise decision as Linfield’s academy graduate linked well up with Isaac Price, and Dion Charles during some sharp early moves.
McCausland ran down the left and cut the ball for Price when Matti Peltola fell on his right, but Standard Liege’s Lukas Haradecky shot the ball straight to him.
Conor Hazard was able to make a smart save in the 14th-minute when Pohjanpalo, who started in the place of Bailey Peacock Farrell, injured, in the city he had spent most of 2022 as a loanee at HJK in, was on his feet to stop the goal.
George Saville, who was the captain of the team on his 50th appearance, has yet to score a goal in Northern Ireland colors. It was therefore no surprise when the Millwall midfielder missed the target after an impressive move that involved Price, Charles and Trai Hume.
Six minutes before the half, Finland was awarded a penalty. The match changed. Daniel Ballard stopped a Fredrik Jensen shot, but Nikolai Alho was clipped as he charged at the goal by Price.
Hazard was sent the wrong direction by Pohjanpalo who, at the start of the game, had only scored three goals in 20 appearances for Finland.
Northern Ireland was in need of a reply, but conceded just three minutes after the break.
O’Neill may wonder how Hakans managed to get past four opponents before passing with Glen Kamara, and then beat Hazard near his post.
Price’s low cross was just out of Conor Washington’s reach in the 69th, but Miro tenho managed to stop it. Five minutes later, substitute Pukki made the scoreline certain.
Former Norwich player played one-twos with Robert Taylor and then rode Paddy McNair’s challenge to curl a ball beyond Hazard’s reach.
Pukki provided the assist in the 88th, when he played the ball between Ballard’s legs, allowing Lod to score, condemning Northern Ireland their lowest result in this dismal campaign.