If there was one road to redemption for the Jari Litmanen/Sami Hyypiä generation, it was avenging the bitter loss of 11.10.1997, but it wasn’t to be. I guess it couldn’t have ended any other way. What started exactly 13 years ago ended in identical fashion. Finland had their throats slit by the Hungarians yet again. The Silver Generation is dead.
Last nights game was a microcosm of everything the Litmanen/Hyypiä generation represented: hope, optimism and ultimately falling short. It is sad to think that two of the greatest Finnish footballers ever will be remembered more for their shortcomings than their greatness, at least where the national team is concerned. Litmanen and Hyypiä, Superman and Batman. Well, if Superman and Batman got their asses kicked on a regular basis.
Although over the last 13 or so years we’ve seen the greatest crop of Finnish players come and go, it doesn’t deserve the moniker ”Golden Generation”. That would imply there was winning taking place, and that certainly didn’t happen during this era. So we’ll go with silver, or perhaps The Eternal Bridesmaids. This generation was defined by failure rather than success. What began with Hungary ended with Hungary. Until that point in 1997, the national team had been pretty much of an afterthought. Those qualifiers triggered a new level of hope and anticipation, but it’s over now. Finland has returned to it’s old status of also-ran from way back when.
The match itself was odd. Nothing much happened in the first half, then it all exploded to start the second. A lasting image of the Stuart Baxter regime is his inability to act. He only reacts, and slowly at that. Never mind that Finland couldn’t make a forward pass all first half, no need to change anything. Finland looked like they wanted the draw. Problem is, the team held back on pushing forward for so long that when they did decide to shake things up (the 71st minute double sub), it meant desperately pushing everyone forward and exposing the back instead of pushing forward gradually.
I mean, it’s not like moving Mika Väyrynen to his natural position at the bottom of midfield earlier would have made any sense, not to mention bringing on Eremenko junior sooner. It took Baxter all of 25 minutes following Hungary’s goal to realise ”Hey, if we play with a more attacking lineup, perhaps we can create some scoring chances!” Considering it was a must-win, that is woefully late. If there is something good to come of the past few games, it is Mikael Forssell discovering his scoring touch. Not a brilliant game from him otherwise, but it doesn’t need to be. Just score, and he obliged, with minimal help. He continues to be a conerstone for whatever happens in the coming years.
When I headed out of The Theater of Broken Dreams after yet another crushing defeat, I was surrounded by a steady stream of shocked people. People of all ages slumped in their seats on a tram. I remember seeing an older fellow, probably in his 60′s, looking absolutely mortified. Someone a bit younger standing next to me just said ”13 years, and nothing has changed”. Those who had followed the national team for decades got yet another shot in the gut. As I headed out of the tram, I saw a group of teenagers hanging their heads and cursing in disgust. They’re too young to remember 1997. If there is some consolation to us old farts, it’s that now the young ones can carry scars of their own. And seeing how the result inflicted collective disappointment and anger on everyday average Joes, I can’t even imagine the torrent going through the heads of Litmanen and Hyypiä. This was it. End of the line.
This story didn’t have a happy ending. Come to think of it, this was a pretty lousy story cover-to-cover.
For years many of us have headed the Theater of Broken Dreams thinking ”This may be the last time we see Litmanen and Hyypiä play”. For Hyypiä at least that seems to be the case. And maybe it would be fitting to see a massive retirement spree. Jussi Jääskeläinen didn’t offer anything in his ballyhooed return. Markus Heikkinen is servicable, but far from irreplacable. Same for Joonas Kolkka and Jonatan Johansson.
As for The King… sigh. His reign has come to a shuddering halt. As I wrote after the Moldova disaster, maybe it’s time to wash our hands of all the grief and baggage of the Silver Generation. Even if a change of guard means a dramatic drop in talent, at least we could wash away the bad memories and the load of never being good enough. It may be bad for a few years, but even so. We’ve gone as far as we can under the current stewardship (or should I sat Stuart-ship).
After over a decade of coming up short when it mattered the most, I think we can safely say we know what to expect from the Silver Generation. They have defined their legacy, for better or worse. The best this country could ever offer was never quite good enough.
Thanks for the memories, guys. It’s time to cut the chord.