By Kasperi Teittinen, July 2013
The Finns have made it to the final tournament for three consecutive women’s football European Championships, and the sport is still young in Finland.
Finnish women’s football forms a relative newcomer at the international level; the national team played its first match in 1973, against Sweden. Things took off in earnest in the mid-1990s, and Finland first made the final tournament of the European Championship in 2005.
Finnish Football Association director Pertti Alaja believes that two main factors contribute to the steady rise of the country’s women’s football programme: long-term, effective work at the club level and increased player development at the national-team level. “We’ve got a supply of promising players in our ranks,” Alaja says. “One good example is the team we have going to the 2013 UEFA Women's Under-19 Championship final tournament.”
He considers Euro 2009 a turning point in building awareness. That year the tournament was held in Finland and the home team reached the quarterfinals. “That became a successful showcase,” says Alaja. “The tournament reinforced Finland’s status within European women’s football, and as an event organiser for the sport.”
The next challenge lies in qualifying for the Women’s World Cup and the Olympics. Alaja is also involved in promoting the game at the junior and hobbyist levels: “We aim to find a place in a club for everyone who is interested, so that everybody can experience the excitement of playing.” The association has also set its sights on holding the Under-17 or Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Finland.
The sport enjoys a longer history in the other Nordic countries, so it’s natural to look to neighbouring Sweden. Andrée Jeglertz, the coach of the Finnish national team, comes from Sweden, and Alaja says he has brought with him a well-needed systematic approach. And although the Nordic countries are competitors, they also work together to promote women’s soccer.
Laura Kivistö, a defender on the national team, says that whereas girls used to join football clubs mainly because their friends convinced them to try it, nowadays there are women’s football stars for girls to look up to and idolise. Kivistö, who has played at the top level for more than a decade, has an insider’s view of the way the sport is progressing: “The most obvious development is that the overall skill level of the players has improved dramatically over the course of my career.”
She has also noticed a growing amount of media and public attention focused on the national team. Televising the games has an important impact, she says: “That way more and more people see that women know the game and that it’s pointless to simply compare them to men. The women’s game is different, but just as skillful.”
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