Finland 0-1 Russia: Miranchuk goal opens up Group B qualification race
Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

The second round of Euro 2020 fixtures got underway as Russia bounced back to win their first European Championship game in seven outings with a 1-0 triumph over a tiresome Finland side.

Aleksey Miranchuk's brilliant goal on the cusp of half-time was all that separated the sides in a game that lacked attacking quality.

With Belgium clear favourites to win the group, Russia's win means the race for second is wide open in Group B.

Story of the game

The Finns recently claimed victory in their first-ever European Championship game over Denmark. They sought to become the first tournament newcomers to ever progress to the last 16 with another positive result over Russia.

Russia came into this game winless in six Euros games since a 4-1 success over the Czech Republic in 2012, with all of their last three at the tournament ending in defeat - one consolation being that they had claimed four victories from four encounters with Finland.

Joel Pohjanpolo was the hero for Finland against Denmark, and he looked to have given them a shock early lead, evading Russian defenders in the box to get on the end of Jukka Raitala’s cross and head into the net. However, a VAR check showed that the goalscorer had just strayed offside as the ball came in, which cut celebrations short.

Once Stanislav Cherchesov's men had collected themselves after the early shock, they got the ball on the deck. They looked to create, crafting a big opportunity for right-sided midfielder Magomed Ozdoev, who skied his shot from close range after Miranchuk played him in.

Pohjanpolo was in again on the 20th-minute mark, but this time was denied by an excellent piece of defending from Igor Diveev, who slid in to block the Finnish striker’s goal-bound effort.

Mario Fernandes, a key player for Russia, was forced off 25 minutes into the game on a stretcher after landing heavily on his back when going up for a header in the Finland area.

Finland’s defending in the Denmark game was faultless, and Jere Uronen required the same level of attentiveness on this occasion, heroically sliding in close to his own goal line to take the ball away from Roman Zobnin.

The Finnish defender clattered into the post and took a boot to the face from the man he denied, showing bravery of the highest level to keep the game level.

Russia were dominant in possession but lacked quality in the final third as a team, although one individual bit of brilliance from Miranchuk gave them that all-important goal.

Receiving the ball in the box after a one-two with Artem Dzyuba, the winger shimmied to wrong foot Daniel O’Shaugnessy and scooped the ball into the top left corner with his in-step.

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Finland looked to their main man Teemu Pukki for a quick response after the break, and the Norwich forward manager to break through on goal; however, some last-ditch defending for Diveev diverted his shot over the bar.

Aleksandr Golovin had a quiet first half but created a chance for himself early in the second, quickly switching the ball to his left foot and firing a low snapshot from range that whistled just past the post.

Russia did not play with the same intensity in the second half, brutally aware that they could not afford to give up what they had. Instead, they kept the ball for as long as they can, switching it from side to side to keep Finland moving.

They did spring into attack on the odd occasion, though. Rifat Zhemaletdinov came on as a second-half substitute and, set up by the man of the moment Miranchuk, crept in behind the Finland backline, sliding a shot past Lukas Hradecky just wide of the right post.

Large gaps started to open up in the Finland defence as they searched for the equaliser, and Russia pounced again, with wing-back Daler Kuzyaev emerging into the penalty area and forcing an excellent save off Hradecky diving to his left.

Finland tired significantly late on, and the Russians saw the game with relative ease to secure a vital three points in Group B.

Talking points

Change of shape brought more solidity to Russia

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Switching to back to back five (3-4-2-1 in attack) seemed to do the trick for Cherchesov in this game, as they limited Finland to just one shot on target in the game.

It could have just been the significantly weaker level of opposition compared to Saturday night, but a clean sheet means all the same no matter what, and the Russians will take pride in that going forward.

Finland ran out of gas late on

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Being one of the lower-ranked sides and appearing in their first tournament ever means Kanerva's side are set up to defend.

Conceding just before half-time put the onus on Finland to go and score, and they could not seem to sustain any real attacking pressure late in the game. 

The best chances in the second half fell Russia's way, which should not be the case with Finland chasing the game - Pukki and Pohjanpolo were completely silenced in the game.

Stand-out player

Aleksey Miranchuk

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In a game severely lacking in attacking quality, the Russian winger's moment of brilliance for his goal in the first half set the game alight.

The Atalanta forward was the most inspired of the Russia front three, setting up Ozdoev's chance before the goal and linking up well with Dyzuba all game.