Baxter loses face in Liechtenstein

Fri, Sep 11, 2009

Finland, Finnish National team

Finland were so utterly rubbish in the matches against Azerbaijan and Liechtenstein that it simply defies belief. Wednesday night goes down among the worst nights in the history of Finnish football. It wasn’t just that it was bad, it was bloody embarrassing. If this is the best that Mr. Baxter can provide with the selection of sixteen players he used, players who share a combined total of almost nine hundred international appearances of precious experience between them, and who obviously were the only ones he thought “ready enough” to take the field against the mighty opponents (he didn’t even bother to make a third substitution in the latter fixture), it is hard to find the words to describe the dismal state the Finnish national team is in. And it’s not just Baxter that is the problem: eight hundred caps and they still couldn’t stop Liechtenstein equalising after about a nano-second after Finland had taken the lead (with a Jari Litmanen penalty, how else?).

Perhaps Finland should just sit the upcoming Euro 2012 qualifying campaign out because this crap is clearly the best that the old players can produce, and if you take Baxter’s word for it (which, obviously, you shouldn’t), there are simply no new players there to pick from. This he didn’t forget to remind us for the one-hundred and twenty-first time during the last week after the Liechtenstein game in Helsingin Sanomat: “There is pressure to bring in young players, but between them [the drooling toddlers who are trying to learn how to crawl and to break into the squad at the same time] and the experienced players, there still remains a clear gap”. Good grief and almighty. Some coaches have the decency to be honest. Some have the integrity to resign (like the Belgium coach Frank Vercauteren did after disasterous results in Spain and Armenia, explaining his decision like so: “When you think you cannot teach a team anything any more, when you think it’s hopeless, you have to quit.” True words.). But some just creep deeper and deeper into their shell, put on the defensives and be even more cautious and afraid in the future. Take your Baxter-pick from the three options.

In Azerbaijan, it was, conveniently, the Finnish centre-backs Hannu Tihinen and Petri Pasanen who had to save Finland and Baxter from a total media hammering by securing three points from the lacklustre game. The performance was absolutely miserable but the points gave Baxter some breathing space to try to mastermind a reaction of any kind in Liechtenstein. However, the Liechtenstein match simply left no causes for absolution and no excuses for the Scotsman any more. Finland’s football was so sub-standard against a team that, despite Baxter trying to convince everyone otherwise with his mantra of how insurmountably dangerous they are, should be a footnote in the story of Finland’s campaign. Somehow Finland managed to make Liechtenstein the thematic conclusion.

Finland’s game was riddled with similar flaws in both matches, flaws Baxter couldn’t negotiate either during a week of rigorous preparation nor in 180 minutes of football. Finland’s play was branded by a curious mixture of drowsiness and hastiness. At times you felt spiders spinning webs on your face as the midfielder were nesting the ball for all their worth, but then at other times there seemed to be a bunch of kids playing in a park who were full off complacency and no discipline. The former defect was evident when Finland had the opportunity to open play quickly and catch the defence with their pants down. The reaction with the ball in these situations, which is one of the central theses in Baxter’s game plan, was often veeeeery slow. When, however, it was time to slow down and simply keep possession to create disorganisation in an organised defence, Finland were too hasty in their passing. It was excruciating to see someone like Teemu Tainio time and again trying to deliver flashy final passes from closer to the halfway line than the goal. With all his experience, he should know better.

It didn’t help the midfield though that when they got possession the attacking players were too pedestrian and often positioned neatly in a four man line, hand in hand with the opponent’s defenders. Although Jonatan Johansson broke through dangerously a couple of times from the right, Finland’s use of the flanks was too monotonous and easily foreseeable as their distribution lacked the exploitation of width and variety. For instance, only rarely did Finland shift flanks in the middle of an attack in order to try to create space in the opponent’s defence by making the defence unit move; at most times they just stubbornly attempted to go through either from the left, right or through the middle without any variation.

Also, invention and adventurousness was missing from Finland’s approach. Until the end of the second half in the Liechtenstein match, it seemed the players had forgot that they can actually try to shoot from distance and not just roll the ball nicely to Litmanen or to either of the flanks, as if they were practising attacking moves on a training pitch. It was also very alarming to see that the Finnish defence (lead by the triangle of Sami Hyypiä-Tihinen-Jussi Jääskeläinen, with 226 international appearances) looked shaky and dis-organised way too often. All in all, Finland’s game lacked common sense.

Pasi Rautiainen would have been right in the post-match studio on Canal Plus and TV Viisi if he had said that “I mean, look. We have this Scottish coach with a moderate name for himself and, granted, he even has something to show for it, who comes here with grand talks about creating a new Finland, and all that bullshit. But when push comes to shove, he cannot walk the walk and provide the new outlook but simply just hides behind the same old players we’ve been watching fail for about ten years now. His game plan, whatever it might be, simply doesn’t work, with the result that Finland play rubbish. He could even get away with it if the results were there, like with Hodgson, but they aren’t.”

Well, to be quite honest, outspoken as he is, that was not what Rautiainen actually said. But that was what he probably meant when he said that there is something seriously wrong if Finland’s solution is to bring on someone like Shefki Kuqi in the dying minutes against Liechtenstein. Baxter might as well have put Hyypiä up-front.

When it was still 0-0, with about twenty minutes to go, Baxter was reportedly preparing to bring in Roni Porokara. However, after five minutes as Finland had first scored and then conceded, he turned to Kuqi. When the coach offers players such as Kuqi and Joonas Kolkka as solutions to problems the two are actually the cause of, the alarm bells indeed should start ringing. Kuqi had already such a rubbish match on Saturday when his only noteworthy input was to create the Azerbaijan goal. After that, one would have thought that Baxter had finally realised the incapability of the player. Then again, one had all the reason to presume that Baxter had also figured out months ago that Kolkka has nothing to offer to the national squad any more (Sure, if you must, he can be selected in the team to shoot the shit in the dressing room, but to use him as an impact substitute…). But all this was and is obviously wishful thinking as Baxter introduced both players in both matches, in an Antti Muurinen-like fashion, simply because he didn’t know what else to do (or if he did, he just didn’t have the backbone to carry it through). Youth is not an absolute value but neither is experience.

True to Baxter’s defeatist mantra, the matches turned out to be every bit as difficult as he had foreseen. With this in mind, Baxter must be thanking his lucky stars that he refrained from doing any rash experimentations with new players against a deadly team like Liechtenstein, since if a Finnish team boasting such experience can only escape with a point from the infernal atmosphere at the Rheinpark Stadion, starting the process of gradual implementation of new players on Wednesday could not have resulted in anything else than a brutal beating.

Finland’s confidence is shattered. The young players disillusioned. And the last of Baxter’s credibility gone. October might be even more miserable than it always is in Finland.

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7 Responses to “Baxter loses face in Liechtenstein”

  1. Sebas Says:

    User “Half a man, half amazing” wrote a superb note:

    “I’m tired of watching the same team year after year going nowhere”, that explains the feel of finish supporters…

    I admire Litmanen a lot, even Johansson have a good work in the team…but if the solution in this team is hopping that Litti, Johansson and co. make the goal or the chance, there is a very big problem. Frustratig is that the solution is now hope the inspiration of a 38 years old man (with all my respects to the great Litti)

    Now, Finland have lose months of avance in revolutioniig the team. They have not pass to the final phase and there are a lot of old players. And it´s frustrating that with all that old players Finland is lacking goal scoring(always with Forssel, Johansson,etc), and in defence is terrific(3 goals between Azerbaian and Leichenstein, 6 agains Russia, 3 in a macth agains Germany)

    It´s time to bring young players NOW!!!! Do you think that Perpa, Sparv, Porokara, Raitala can not be so importants in the tam in the future like Johansson, Tihinen or Kuqi for example???? Are Kolkka or Johansson super stars???? well, we must try with the young players, gives the confidence, because they have quality. Raitala, Pukki, Porokara, Perpa, Sparv,…are good players, even if we need a striker why not Furuholm or Vuorinen for example????

  2. kalle Says:

    Baxter here and Baxter there, when you lose against a team like Lichstenstien, the only ones to blaim is the players! Either to bad or to bad focused..

  3. Egan Richardson Says:

    Thing is Kalle, Baxter picked the players and he has to take some responsibility for that. The problems are much deeper than a single qualification campaign, and changing the coach won’t solve them, but a coaching change might be part of the necessary solution.

    When Baxter came in, nothing else really changed. It was ‘one last heave’, with the same players and same strategy, and it hasn’t worked out. Finland were utterly outclassed by Russia, and have only really played well against Wales. After that Wales game, Craig Bellamy said that Finland were a bad team and didn’t have a hope in hell of qualifying, and it turns out he was right.

    All the talk of young players is a natural reaction to a team with an average age of 29.6 drawing with a minnow like Liechtenstein, but the players talked about as potential national team replacements might very well not be ready. They were themselves outclassed at the Under-21s in Sweden, and aside from Raitala, there aren’t many that have shown they are ready to step up.

    The solution is to identify talent early and promote them aggressively through the age groups. That’s the only way they learn, and they can of course learn by losing. There is no point keeping a nice age group together if they will never be international standard. Young players should be one or two age groups ahead, but in Finland that almost never happens.

  4. Markus Kitunen Says:

    I agree. In an age group in Finland there might be one or two players (if even that) with potential to become national team regulars. And since there will always going to be a shortage of potential, the few players there are, must not be lost. Now i’d say Raitala and Sparv are the biggest hopes.

    Obviously you cannot field a whole line-up of young players who haven’t got any experience, or are not good enough yet. But that’s why there always needs to be an age balance in the squad so that you don’t find yourself in a situation like Finland are now. There are too many experienced players who are past it and no real back-up since there has been little effort in giving young players the experience they need to cope with the demands of international football and develop their game. Like Sebas said, we have lost too much time by not bringing in the few players we have.

    The thing is that the situation with the national team is unbearable at the moment. Their game has not evolved, the results are indifferent and the re-building process has not started (the average age of 30 pretty much summs it up). When the change does happen, the next national squad will not be as good in terms of quality as the one we’ve had for a long time now (with players like Litmanen, Hyypiä, Johansson etc.) but that doesn’t have to mean that the collective will be worse. We don’t need a new Litmanen or a new Hyypiä if we have a decent group of players and a good coach who has a working strategy that exploits the qualities of the squad to the maximum. It might take some time until we have a real shot of getting to a major tournament but in the meantime, at least we’ll have a team that has a future and a squad of players we are not tired, frustrated and bored watching.

  5. Sebas Says:

    I agree with you in almost all comments, only I desagree in two parts:

    In my opinion, there are more quality in some young players that we expect. Raitala is very good, Sparv the same, and ones like Porokara, Hetemaj bross, Pukki, Dalla Valle….maybe now are not ready, but they have the quality to be very good ones in a cuple of years.

    The second thing is that I think that only Litmanen and Hyypia must be considered stars, we will missin them. But Johansson, Kolkka, Tihinen, Forssell,etc…are good players but only that. For example Johansson(a good player) di´dn´t consolidate in te team until 24-25 years old. Why we can not think that ane young players will be the same???

    I think that this could be the team in a couple of years:

    Goalkeepers: LEHTOVAARA, Jaaskelainen

    Defenders: MOISANDER, RAITALA, PASANEN, LAMPI, Turunen, Toivio

    Mildfields: ROMAN EERMENKO, SPARV, Tainio, Vayrynen, Hehtemaj M.

    Winds: P.HETEMAJ, POROKARA, Hakola?, Sjolund

    Playmakers: EEREMENKO, Riski

    Strikers: PUKKI, DALLA VALLE, Forssell, Furuholm / Vuorinen

    What wolud be your team in two years????

  6. Markus Kitunen Says:

    Your team, Sebas, indeed looks good and is full of potential. It’s hard to say who will be there in two years time but if the re-building process is done (if it ever gets under way, sigh..) properly, we should have a good enough national team with a mix of current players and new faces.

    If we presume that the players coming through at the moment will fulfil their potential, I would like to see players like Lehtovaara, Maanoja, Raitala, Moisander, Sparv, Hämäläinen, Mattila, Porokara, P. Hetemaj (perhaps M.Hetemaj also), Hakola (to add some wide players as well), Dalla Valle and Pukki there.

    It’s difficult to say much about some players though since I haven’t got the chance to see them much. For instance, Dalla Valle and Toivio are players with whom I’ll have to rely mostly on media reports. And the same applies to Pukki as well. But it seems both Dalla Valle and Pukki are exceptional talents, and hopefully Toivio will become the player he was already touted out to become years ago.

    And I do think that there are plenty of players in the current squad that should still have something to give to Finland in two years time: Jääskeläinen (if stays fit) can still hack it although getting quite old, Pasanen, Lampi, Taino, Väyrynen, the Eremenko brothers, Sjölund and Forssell also.

    There are also some exciting players coming through from younger age groups who are probably not there in 2011-12 but have great potential. Riski, like you mentioned, and Rasmus Schuller from Honka, for example, are excellent prospects.

  7. Egan Richardson Says:

    I’d add Jusu Karvonen to that list.

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