As a national team, Finland have been starved of success, but all that changed a year ago when they qualified for EURO 2020.

Having never reached the finals of a major tournament before in their history, what manager Markku Kanerva has achieved cannot be underestimated, and they will embrace the stage that they will take to on merit when the tournament finally takes place next summer. Like Cymru, they have suffered the heartache of narrowly missing out on qualification in the past, but now is their time to celebrate.

Striker Teemu Pukki is the man of the moment having scored 10 goals in as many qualifying games as Finland finished as runners-up behind Italy in Group J, but this was very much a team effort. “I’ve had so many people over the years, including lots here in Finland, telling me we would never qualify,” said Kanerva to FIFA.com once their place was confirmed. “I think the big thing, beyond having good players, is team spirit. We have also defended extremely well. Keeping a clean sheet in six of our ten games tells its own story in that respect. And we’ve been fortunate too that we’ve had some very effective attacking players. But that spirit is the thing I’d like to emphasise most of all. If we maintain that and keep the same mentality, I believe we can continue to be successful.”

Veteran midfielder and captain Tim Sparv also shared the emotion of his manager. Having represented his country for over a decade, nobody would have blamed Sparv for thinking that he would never make it to the finals of a major tournament, but his belief that this team would succeed epitomises the spirit that clearly exists within this group of players. The story is similar to that if Iceland at EURO 2016, and there are many similar characteristics to Chris Coleman's Cymru side that also reached the finals in France four years ago.

“There are huge pressures and expectations on footballers’ shoulders and, for some young players, those can sometimes be too much to carry,” explained Sparv when asked about his role as captain of this side. “It’s important to create the right kind of environment – a safe environment – where those young guys can feel free and comfortable to talk about anything they want. I also think it’s clear that, if players feel good away from the pitch, they’ll perform better on it. That’s definitely been a strength of the national team because the management there make a big thing of involving the players, hearing our opinions and making sure we all feel happy and invested in what we’re doing. It’s a very democratic set-up, which really benefits us, and I love the responsibility they give me as captain.”

Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now