Whilst the top sides in Europe prepared for the semi-finals of the 1976 European Championship, England were setting out on the road to qualification for the next major tournament, the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. After five weeks of preparation in the Home Internationals and the US Bicentennial tournament, Don Revie’s team faced their most important fixture of the summer as they travelled to Helsinki to take on Finland.
The draw for the tournament had seen England unseeded and put into a group with Italy and Luxembourg as well as the Finns. Whilst Italy would obviously be a tough test, England’s failed European Championship qualification campaign had seen them slip up against the 3rd ranked nation, Portugal, so it was vital that they got off to a winning start in Helsinki, preferably with a handsome win with goal difference potentially being vital.
Revie’s side showed one change from that which had beaten Team America in their last run out in Philadelphia, with Brian Greenhoff discarded for one of the manager’s stalwarts from his Leeds United days, as Paul Madeley slipped into central defence alongside Phil Thompson.
Finland’s team of amateurs had been winless in their attempts to qualify for Euro 76, but had eked out a goalless draw against the Italians in the final match of the campaign. Their line up included two names which would be become familiar through the exploits of their sons, Goran Enckelmen (father of future Villa keeper Peter) and Matti Paatelainen (father of journeyman striker Mixxu).
The importance of the match was reflected by the decision of the BBC to broadcast it live with David Coleman on commentary duty. Unfortunately the only footage I have been able to find is some grainy footage on YouTube, which you can watch here.
England, in red shirts, started brightly. Stuart Pearson had a goal ruled out for offside inside 10 minutes, before the Manchester United striker but England ahead on 14.
However the Finns exposed England’s frailties as they equalised 13 minutes later, Paatelainen heading home via Ray Clemence, the keeper only able to push the ball against the inside of his post and into the net.
England responded immediately and were back in front just three minutes later, Kevin Keegan grabbing the goal and 11 minutes into the second half Mick Channon continued his recent fine international form by making it 3-1, reacting well to pop home the rebound of his own shot.
When Kevin Keegan made it 4-1 on the hour, rounding off a fine 30 yard run with a neat finish, a big score looked like being on the cards, but the Finns shut up shop and England could not make any further inroads and had to settle for 4-1 as the final scoreline.
It was difficult to judge just how good a victory this was, with Italy not yet having started their campaign, but Don Revie declared himself happy when speaking after the game.
“I am more than pleased with the way it went. The Finns made it difficult for us to play, pulling lots of people back behind the ball. I would have settled cheerfully for this score before the game because it is nice to get a good start in our qualifying group.”
So finally, England’s summer was over, however they would obviously have liked it to have been extended it another week by playing in the European Championship Finals. In Yugoslavia, the top four teams in the continent were about to face off in a superb competition, which would produce some memorable matches.
Quotes and information on the game from http://homepage.ntlworld.com/carousel/ITV/Argentina78.html