Soccer-Finns aim to strengthen bid to reach Euro knockout stage with win over Russia

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Euro 2020 - Group B - Denmark v Finland - Parken Stadium, Copenhagen, Denmark - June 12, 2021 Finland players celebrate with fans after the match Pool via REUTERS/Friedemann Vogel

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - The near-tragedy of Christian Eriksen's collapse cast a shadow over Finland’s 1-0 win over Denmark on Saturday but they will be in pole position to book a spot in the knockout stage if they beat Russia on Wednesday.

First-time Euro finalists Finland know that a win in St. Petersburg will put them on six points and in a strong position to qualify from Group B.

To give themselves the best chance of doing so, the Finns will have to do something they have not managed to do for over a century – beat the Russians.

The last time the Finns managed to a win over Russia was at the 1912 Olympics, when Finland was still under Russian control.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians have won all four meetings against Finland, conceding only once.

Joel Pohjanpalo's header on the hour mark put the Finns second in the table behind leaders Belgium on goal difference. But their first game at the finals of a major tournament was a harrowing one for the Finns.

Denmark playmaker Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest on the field, but quick action by his team mates and the medical staff saved his life and he was transported to a nearby hospital before the game eventually resumed.

"It was a mental challenge, what happened on the field was something much more important than football," Finland captain Tim Sparv told reporters.

Striker Teemu Pukki, who scored 10 goals in qualifying, looked like he had fully recovered from a troublesome ankle injury as he led the line, and the Finns are again likely to try to sit deep and hit the Russians on the break.

Russia, who made the 2018 World Cup quarter-finals on home soil, fell flat against the Belgians and a positive result is essential if they want to get themselves back on track.

"We wait for the Finnish team on June 16 and then there will be the match in Denmark. One match does not solve everything, but we will endeavour to turn the Finnish team aside," Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov told a press conference.

The game kicks off at 1300 GMT on Wednesday, with group rivals Denmark facing Belgium in Copenhagen at 1600 GMT the following day.

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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