What makes Teemu Pukki so special is his ability to find a yard when there isn’t one, to create a chance for himself when a packed defence seems unable to concede one. The difference on international duty is that the Finn can’t find that yard, because he already has 50.
In a possession-based side, Pukki excels, and his trademark movement is the difference as his club team camp themselves in the opposition half. Qualities generally needed to be a top-level striker – pace, power, skill – are negated because the 31-year-old’s movement is so clever that all he has to do is make a clever spin off a defender and he has a one-on-one from 14 yards.
With Finland, things are different, as summed up by the man himself: “Of course we know that we are the underdog in every game. We are a challenger (in this tournament) and our main goal is to keep a clean sheet. We may have had to play a little too much defence, and it then becomes a problem when we have to get the team up in the attacking game.”
Without the packed defence to tie up, the best aspect of Pukki’s game becomes irrelevant. Sides are, as Belgium were on Monday night, happy to treat Pukki as Ben Gibson and Grant Hanley often treat their counterparts, with the proposal of a 30-yard race.
Two years ago this may have suited the Norwich striker, as his fans became used to the site of his legs rapidly motoring into space on the edge of the opposition box. His derby double to down Ipswich highlighted this ability. But in 2021, entering the autumn of his career and off the back of a serious ankle injury, that approach doesn’t quite suit ‘the goat’. That’s without mentioning the world class defenders he’s been competing with this summer.
It’s also true that Pukki occasionally flits between ice-cool predator and wasteful panicker in front of goal, and he leant towards the latter in the Huuhkajat’s crucial loss to Russia. He didn’t get the opportunity to be either in the games against either Denmark or Belgium.
City fans have grown an affection for Finland in the last three years, and the success or failure of one of their adopted nations is semi-important, but priorities lie in NR1, and Pukki’s struggles are a worry in that department. A cocktail of injury and confidence issues famously killed his form in 2020, and the exact same mix may haunt the Canaries as they embark on their latest Premier League adventure.
Pukki’s fitness has been routinely proclaimed lacking by national Euros coverage, and the impact of a summer tournament, along with the horrendous situation he was witness to when Christian Eriksen suffered cardiac arrest on the same pitch as the City striker, cannot be underestimated. He did, however, attempt to allay fears over that ankle issue.
“The ankle is in good condition. We taped it, but it doesn’t bother me at all,” Pukki said. His claims are encouraging, although should be taken with a pinch of salt. The Finland no 10 is hardly likely to reveal that ‘it’s not feeling good, the manager shouldn’t pick me’.
There’s no doubt Norwich City fans will be gutted for their star striker, and they were all willing the Finnish football legend to fire his country to knockout stage glory.
The dejection on his face as Jonathon Pierce stated that “Teemu Pukki’s Championships are over” was hard to see. His morale will take a hit, but with an extra couple of weeks’ rest earned as the hope of international glory is lost, this may well be to the Canaries’ benefit.