Impact’s Finnish duo, Jukka Raitala and Lassi Lappalainen have one foot in the Euros Finals, after each starting in yesterday’s vital 3-0 qualifying victory over Armenia in Turku.
The Finns went from suffering their heaviest competitive international defeat in six years when they lost 1-4 to Bosnia & Herzegovina, Saturday, to recording their biggest competitive international win since September 2011, just three days later.
The Bosnians 1-2 loss to Athens in Greece, courtesy of Adnan Kovacevic’s 88th minute own goal, has eased the qualification passage for the Eagle Owls. Now, a win over lowly Liechtenstein in Helsinki on November 15 will seal the deal. To put that particular task into perspective, the Liechtensteiners have managed to avoid defeat on the road on only two occasions since they began entering European Championship qualifying in 1996.
Lappalainen missed the Bosnia game due to a stomach ailment, but was immediately drafted back into the left side of midfield upon regaining fitness, for yesterday’s visit of Armenia. Current scoring sensation, Norwich City’s Teemu Pukki added a brace of second-half goals to Fredrik Jensen’s 31st minute opener to put Finland in the driving seat for second place in the group.
Lappalainen played the first 61 mins of the game before being replaced, just before Pukki made it 2-0.
Coach Markku Kanerva gave a vote of confidence to his beleaguered defence from the Bosnia game, starting with the same back-four against Armenia that concluded Saturday’s hammering. That meant a 42nd international cap for Jukka Raitala who played all 90 minutes of yesterday’s 3-0 success on the right side of defence.
Finland has been playing international soccer since 1911, and have yet to qualify for either a World Cup or Euros finals tournament, so the Impact lads are on the verge of history.
Should Finland prevail next month over Liechtenstein as expected, and Raitala and Lappalainen remain with the Montreal club, they will become only the second and third Impact players to play in a Euros finals tournament.
The only previous Impact player to do so was Laurent Ciman in 2016. The Belgian played in his country’s 0-2 group defeat by Italy in Lyon, France.