It’s always exciting to see a player from your club strut his stuff on the big international stage, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely that Montreal fans will be watching Lassi Lappalainen this summer, when the 2020 Euros play out across the continent of Europe.
It spells good news from a selfish perspective for Montreal of course as Lappalainen would then be available for MLS selection, but it would be a bitter disappointment to the 22-year-old should he miss out on his country’s first-ever qualification for a major finals.
He’s still on the radar of Finnish head coach Markku Kanerva of course, but, it’s all to do with fitness progress reports rather than how well he’s performing.
With Kanerva due to settle on his final 23 towards the end of May, it’s a race against time for Lappalainen to be fit. And the player’s odds for inclusion appear to be lengthening with each passing day he spends training away from the main group, as CF Montreal romps up for its season-opener.
His last international appearance was back in October 2019 when Armenia was defeated 3-0 during the qualifying campaign during which Lappalainen appeared in exactly half of the ten matches.
He was always included in Kanerva’s squads since making his full debut in early 2019, but the combination of pandemic and injury has prevented inclusion in any of the Nations League or World Cup qualifying games since that victory over Armenia. Finland has played thirteen matches within that time.
Updates on Lappalainen’s recovery are a closely guarded secret, but given his low intensity workouts this pre-season, the assumption is he’s not close to making Montreal’s match day squad for the season-opener on 17 April v Toronto FC. And that being the case, it provides precious little time for him to prove his fitness to the Finland boss.
If Lappalainen was a critical member of Kanerva’s squad, the head coach might consider taking a chance on the Montreal man’s fitness, but Lassi’s not yet deemed essential, and Kanerva has a preference for players in his squad who provide versatility within his preferred 5-3-2 (he’s also used 4-4-2) framework.
“Versatility is a good word. Players adapted to different groups are valuable players,” said Kanerva.
The attacker’s best chance for inclusion seems to reside on the very recent calls from several coaches including Martinez (Belgium), Mancini (Italy) and Deschamps (France) for the squads to be increased to 26 or 27 players to prepare for teams being hit by a raft of positive coronavirus tests which could force players into isolation during the tournament.
But although UEFA have the issue under consideration, it’s far from certain to happen and there are others, like England’s Gareth Southgate, not keen on the idea. “I’m not certain I’m behind that. I know Covid could play a part but I think there’s a skill to picking 23,” declared the England coach.
“It means you’ve got to make good decisions and important decisions and I think some of that can be lost as you get an extended group,” Southgate added.
Lappalainen of course is young enough for other opportunities to arrive later, however Finland is not one of those countries that expects often to qualify for major tournaments. They are unlikely to be able to sustain their relative success of late and it could be another couple of generations or more, before the Finns qualify for anything again.
Something that Lappalainen will already be aware of and which would make make missing out this time around, all the more disappointing.
Check out the latest, The Ball Is Round Podcast (Episode 23). Recorded last evening (7 April), the TBIR team discusses CFM’s Florida rendezvous, the goalkeeping situation, the new MLS schedule, opening game v Toronto FC and the MLS pundits’ unflattering CF Montreal predictions... Plus all the usual favourite features... including, Eve’s Time Machine... Don’t miss it!
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