Finland adds to the European Championships’ great history of underdog heroics


When the curtain fell on Denmark’s encounter with Finland in the opening round of Euro 2020 matches, all thoughts were with Christian Eriksen. The sight of the Inter star collapsing on the field was the stuff of nightmares. It was an immense relief for the players on both teams to learn that he was going to be OK.  

It was not till the dust settled and Eriksen was released from hospital that anyone really had the opportunity to look back on the match itself. Finland had achieved a remarkable feat. This is the first time the Scandinavian nation has qualified for any kind of international tournament, and here they were, winning their first game. What’s more, it was against former tournament champions who were playing in front of their home fans!  

Finland’s victory threw Group B wide open and made the final round of group matches in the  more important than anyone could reasonably have expected. But such results are commonplace in a tournament where over the years, we have learned to expect the unexpected. 

Ireland demolish England (1988) 

Back in 1988, Ireland were in Finland’s shoes, playing in their first major international tournament. England, meanwhile, had a team sheet that read like a who’s who of football legends. Beardsley, Linekar, Barnes, Waddle, the list went on and on. 

Ray Houghton later said that he and his teammates back home thought they hadn’t got a prayer. Yet it was he who almost nonchalantly nodded the ball past the outstretched arms of Peter Shilton in the sixth minute. There then ensued a rearguard action that lasted 84 minutes to hold on to that precious lead and achieve the impossible.  

Greece bring it home at 150-1 (2004) 

Hanging on against the odds for 84 minutes is impressive. But in 2004, Greece managed to do so for three weeks. When the tournament got underway, they had a 150-1 shot to win it.

Those are around the same odds as bookies were offering on Slovakia at the beginning of Euro 2020. Four points from three games in the group stage was enough for them to squeeze through, and gave no warning of what was to come.

A shock win over France in the Quarter finals sent them into a semi final with the Czech Republic feeling full of confidence. They won with ease to play the hosts in the final at Lisbon, and the rest is history.  

England lose again (2016) 

If 60 years of European Championships history has taught us anything it is that England can lose against the most improbable opposition and at the most unexpected times. Last time out, they had played solidly enough in the group stage. When they looked at the knockout draw, the main concern would have been the prospect of facing France in the quarters.

The fact that they needed to first get past Iceland barely registered, but Kolbeinn Sigthorsson became the hero of the hour with two goals in lightning fast succession and England were heading home.