EURO 2020: Finland’s hopes rest largely on Pukki’s fitness

Finland will be keeping a close eye on striker Teemu Pukki’s ankle injury, hoping it heals in time for the European Championship.

Pukki scored 26 goals this season to help Norwich get promoted to the Premier League and also led Finland into its first international tournament. He was even more prolific in qualifying with 10 goals in 10 games and joined some illustrious company — finishing one goal behind Portugal great Cristiano Ronaldo and two behind England striker Harry Kane.

He hit the target with 70% of his shots, better than Ronaldo’s accuracy.

Pukki started qualifying for next year’s World Cup with three goals in two games, reaching 30 international goals to sit behind three behind Jari Litmanen’s national team scoring record. He’ll have a chance to catch Litmanen in Group B with matches against Denmark, Russia and Belgium.

No wonder Finland coach Markku Kanerva depends so much on the 31-year-old Pukki, whose excellent movement off the ball is one of his strong suits.

Pukki damaged right ankle ligaments playing for Norwich in early May and might eventually need an operation. However, that could come after the tournament.

“Our fingers are crossed for him. No other striker probably in western Europe has had more games in the last three years,” Norwich manager Daniel Farke said. “We hope everything goes well with the rehab so that he’s ready for the Euros.”

Still, if Pukki is not ready for the opening group game against Denmark in Copenhagen on June 12, Kanerva has other options and is building a promising young team.

Marcus Forss and Onni Valakari, both 21, gave a glimpse of things to come last November, scoring their first international goals in a 2-0 win at World Cup champion France.

Forss helped Brentford win the second-division playoff and reach the Premier League for the first time and, barring any transfers, he is poised to play against Pukki next season.

Finland’s quick and direct counterattacking style caused France problems last year and could be the right approach at Euro 2020. The team faces Russia in St. Petersburg on June 16 and stays in the same city to play Belgium five days later.

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