Northern Ireland lost out by four goals to nil against Finland in a Euro qualifier in chilly conditions in Helsinki tonight.
Although Michael O’Neill’s side created chances during the game, the Finns were ruthless in front of goal in Helsinki’s revamped Olympic Stadium.
Finland scored once in the first half, from the penalty spot, and three times after the break in front of 28,711 fans, including just under 600 members of the Green and White Army.
Northern Ireland’s penultimate game in their Euro 2024 qualification campaign got off to a bright start as they pushed the hosts back in the Group H encounter.
Ross McCausland, making his senior debut, sped down the right flank and fed the ball to Isaac Price, however Finland’s captain and goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky comfortably gathered his low drive.
Conor Hazard palmed away a corner as Finland began to threaten the visitors’ goal and then the keeper got down well to save a snapshot from Finland striker Joel Pohjanpalo.
On 22 minutes George Saville, wearing the captain’s armband as he earned his 50th cap for Northern Ireland, drilled a shot wide of the target.
The next decent chance of the game also fell to the visitors. Eoin Toal and Daniel Ballard competed for the ball as Hazard dropped a free-kick into the danger zone and the ball fell to Dion Charles, who turned sharply and fired a volley at Hradecky, however the Finnish keeper was equal to it.
Moments later, on 39 minutes, after Ballard had blocked a shot from Fredrik Jensen, Northern Ireland conceded a penalty when Isaac Price tripped the onrushing Nikolai Ahlo inside the area. Pohjanpalo smashed the penalty past Hazard to put the Finns ahead.
Just after the restart Finland extended their lead. Left winger Daniel Hakans played a one-two with Glen Kamara and hammered the ball into the net off the inside of the post from eight yards out.
Northern Ireland tried to claw their way back into it. Saville dragged a shot wide on 55 minutes.
Ballard blocked a goal-bound effort from Finland playmaker Rasmus Schuller as the home side searched for a third.
A sharp delivery from Price was put out for a corner by Finland defender Miro Tenho as Northern Ireland substitute Conor Washington threatened.
In the 73rd minute substitute Teemu Pukki grabbed Finland’s third. He jinked his way past the Northern Ireland defence and expertly curled the ball past Hazard into the top corner. It was a fine finish.
A deflected shot from Washington was collected by Hradecky before Ballard swung on a Saville header, but his effort flew over the top.
On 84 minutes defender Michael Forbes made his senior international debut, replacing Trai Hume.
Four minutes later it was 4-0 to Finland. Pukki was the architect as he slipped in fellow sub Robin Lod to tuck the ball past Hazard.
And that was the last meaningful action of the contest in the famous Finnish stadium.
Finland: Lukas Hradecky (captain), Nikolai Alho, Matti Peltola, Robert Ivanov, Miro Tenho, Glen Kamara, Rasmus Schuller, Kaan Kairinen, Joel Pohjanpalo, Fredrik Jensen, Daniel Hakans.
Substitutes: Viljami Sinisalo (GK), Hugo Keto (GK), Arttu Hoskonen, Richard Jensen, Robert Taylor, Robin Lod, Benjamin Kallman, Teemu Pukki, Pyry Soiri, Lucas Lingman, Jere Uronen, Noah Pallas.
Northern Ireland: Conor Hazard, Trai Hume, Jamal Lewis, Daniel Ballard, Eoin Toal, Paddy McNair, Ross McCausland, Jordan Thompson, Dion Charles, George Saville (captain), Isaac Price.
Substitutes: (used) Josh Magennis, Conor Washington, Brodie Spencer, Michael Forbes, Callum Marshall; (unused) Stephen McMullan, Luke Southwood, Conor McMenamin, Jordan Jones, Dale Taylor, Terry Devlin, Ciaron Brown.