Match ends, Finland 4, Northern Ireland 0.
Finland 4-0 Norhern Ireland: Injury-hit NI suffer further misery with deflating defeat in Helsinki17 November 2023
Last updated on .From the section FootballWatch: Michael O'Neill calls for reaction from players after Finland defeat
Injury-hit Northern Ireland's Euro 2024 qualifying misery continued as they suffered a deflating 4-0 defeat by Finland in Helsinki.
Michael O'Neill's young side played well in the first half but never recovered from falling behind to a Joel Pohjanpalo penalty just before the break.
Daniel Håkans doubled the hosts' lead soon after half time, with goals from Teemu Pukki and Robin Lod compounding another sorry night for struggling Northern Ireland.
They have now lost seven of their nine Group H matches, with their only two victories coming against San Marino, the world's lowest-ranked side.
That is in a group from which many supporters hoped Northern Ireland could qualify when the draw was first made - a feeling that was strengthened when O'Neill, who led the team to the Euro 2016 finals, was appointed for a second spell in December.
A 550-strong travelling support gave their side tremendous backing at the Olympic Stadium, and would have been encouraged by what they saw from a very inexperienced team in the first 42 minutes.
However, after Northern Ireland fell behind to a penalty that stood after a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) check, what followed was an all-too-familiar story of woe for a team that has had to cope with a mounting injury crisis that has robbed them of a host of vital, senior players.
Individual errors or poor defending proved costly on a night when they failed to create any clear-cut chances, despite that opening spell when they kept possession well and looked solid without the ball.
O'Neill said before the game he was without up to 15 players and, indeed, by handing a debut to Rangers youngster Ross McCausland - himself only a late call-up to the squad on Monday - he was using the 32nd player of this campaign. West Ham United defender Michael Forbes, 19, made that 33 when he came on as a late substitute.
The manager had also spoken before this game of the importance of providing his young team with positivity as they begin their international journeys, but supporters' patience is being stretched by a team that has now won just three of their last 16 games - two of those against San Marino.
O'Neill has also said on a few occasions he is determined to secure a victory against a team other than San Marino in this campaign, but that will now be a hugely difficult task with top seeds Denmark coming to Belfast for Northern Ireland's final match on Monday night.
Clinical Finns punish Northern IrelandGeorge Saville captained Northern Ireland for the first time on what was his 50th international cap
Finland's opener came in the 42nd minute when referee Aliyar Aghayev ruled Isaac Price had brought down Nikolai Alho after the attacker had latched on to a Dan Ballard block.
Pohjanpalo stepped up to take the spot-kick and he found the bottom left corner superbly, sending deputy goalkeeper Conor Hazard the wrong way.
Having played well until conceding, Northern Ireland fell further behind three minutes after the break.
Håkans brushed past three visiting players too easily before playing a clever one-two with Glen Kamara and finishing off the inside of the near post with a left-foot strike that perhaps should not have beaten Hazard.
Finland's third came from their record scorer Pukki, who came off the bench and exchanged passes with Robert Taylor before knocking it through Paddy McNair's legs and bending a beautiful shot from the edge of the box into the top corner past Hazard.
It was a 39th international goal for the former Norwich City and Celtic striker, meaning his tally for his country is nine more that that of the combined total of goals for the Northern Ireland squad.
Pukki turned provider in the 88th minute, playing the ball through Ballard's legs for Lod to poke home, condemning the visitors to their worst result yet in a dismal campaign.
Debutant McCausland and Price lead strong NI startRoss McCausland became the 32nd player used by NI boss O'Neill in this campaign
McCausland, 20, went from being a late call-up to the squad on Monday to a surprise starter on his senior Northern Ireland debut, less than a week after the winger made his first Rangers start on what was his seventh appearance for the Scottish Premiership side.
Playing in one of the advanced midfield roles in what looked like a bold 5-2-2-1 formation, he and fellow youngster Isaac Price both took up more advanced positions, just behind striker Dion Charles, than many may have expected.
And the pair were heavily involved as Northern Ireland made a bright start to the game, with the back three looking confident, marshalled by McNair, and starting a number of encouraging passing moves which did not result in many chances, but certainly ended in long spells of possession.
One good chance was fashioned on six minutes when McCausland broke down the right and delivered a low cross which was met at the edge of the box by Price. He caught his shot well but it was straight at goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky.
Visiting stopper Hazard, making only his second competitive start in place of the injured Bailey Peacock-Farrell, dived smartly to his left to keep out a 14th-minute Pohjanpalo volley.
George Saville had a chance to celebrate being captain for the first time, on his 5Oth cap, by scoring his first international goal when another fine passing move led to the ball being cleared to him on the edge of the box. He tried his luck with a left-foot volley but it was off target.
Northern Ireland threatened again just a few minutes before Finland opened the scoring when striker Charles swivelled and caught a volley well but it flew straight into the arms of the goalkeeper.
Finland's opening goal arrived soon after that, with Northern Ireland's night unravelling after they fell behind.
- 17AlhoSubstituted forPallasat 83'minutes
- 11SchüllerSubstituted forLodat 72'minutes
- 19JensenSubstituted forPukkiat 60'minutes
- 20PohjanpaloSubstituted forLingmanat 83'minutes
- 21HåkansSubstituted forTaylorat 72'minutes
- 2HumeSubstituted forForbesat 85'minutes
- 15ThompsonSubstituted forSpencerat 77'minutes
- 8McCauslandSubstituted forWashingtonat 59'minutes
- 14PriceSubstituted forMarshallat 85'minutes
- 10CharlesSubstituted forMagennisat 60'minutes
- Aliyar Aghayev
Second Half ends, Finland 4, Northern Ireland 0.
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