Soccer-Finland draw hope from past ahead of Belgium showdown


Soccer Football - Euro 2020 - Group B - Finland v Russia - Saint Petersburg Arena, Saint Petersburg, Russia - June 16, 2021 Finland coach Markku Kanerva after the match Pool via REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Finland face a daunting challenge against the world's highest-ranked team Belgium to qualify for the Euro 2020 knockouts in their maiden tournament, but coach Markku Kanerva is taking inspiration from his side's ability to surprise the top nations.

"A draw will probably be enough to qualify," he said of the final Group B game in St. Petersburg on Monday for Finland, who sit on three points after an opening win against Denmark.

"When I started as head coach in the Finnish team one of the first matches was a friendly against Belgium and we managed a draw," he added at a news conference on Sunday, recalling a 1-1 result in 2016.

Kanerva called Monday's game - taking place at the same time as Denmark meet Russia in Copenhagen - the biggest ever for Finland, who sit 53 places below Belgium in the FIFA rankings.

"We still have a chance to win the group - it's completely in our own hands," he said.

"The most important part of our task is to focus on the part we can actually control, and that is our own game. We have our colleagues who will keep us informed about the situation between Russia and Denmark, but hopefully we won't need that information."

After beating the Danes, the Finns then lost to Russia but they believe other past heroics such as a 2-0 friendly win over France in November will help them against Belgium.

"It is great that we have a chance to face the two best teams in the world. Although it was a friendly, the France game gave us an idea of how we can do well against the best teams," Kanerva said.

"Now we are facing the number one in the FIFA world ranking, the experience with France gives us the idea that we can beat big teams."

The Finns are third in Group B behind Belgium and Russia. The top two go through to the knockout stage, along with the four best third-place finishers from the six groups.

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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