- Finland won their opening FIFA Women's World Cup qualifier
- Austria, Spain, Serbia and Israel also in Finland's qualifying group
- Captain Tinja-Riikka Korpela shares a number of similarities with Manuel Neuer
There are undoubtedly many people who share certain similarities with Manuel Neuer. Perhaps they are the same age as him, or play in the same position. Yet how many of those can lay claim to playing in goal at the highest level in the Bundesliga for Bayern Munich and for their national team? Well, Tinja-Riikka Korpela can. She has been at Bayern since 2014 and is a mainstay in the Finnish women's national side.
"We don't see each other that often as we train and play in different places in Munich," she said of Neuer, who is currently sidelined with injury. "But I've seen many of his games and training sessions. I like his style. It's very modern and he's increasingly involved in the game and helping the team in that way. That's definitely something I want to get better at."
While Neuer and Germany have already secured their place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ following a successful qualifying campaign, Korpela and Finland are only just starting out on the long path towards the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™. Finland won their first qualifier against Serbia and are eyeing another victory in their second game against Israel on Sunday, especially as they must also face Spain and Austria further down the line.
"It's a very tough group, we know that," the 31-year-old said. "Spain and Austria played at the EURO this summer and they did really well - especially Austria. We're definitely the underdogs in this group but we'll do our best and fight until the last game so that we can fulfil our dream - which is to play at a World Cup one day. Finland have never done that, neither on the men’s nor the women’s side."
Korpela's wealth of experience and physical strength could play a leading role in achieving that. She recently obtained her best ever results in the Yo-Yo test, a running exercise that involves staggered increases in speed to determine a player's endurance levels. "I've been in the women's national team for 11 years now and I've played for very good sides in different countries," she said. "I've been in many tough situations before. The work you do every day in training pays off. At the age of 31 I'm at the top of my game and my personal level." The Finland captain is also confident in the strength of her team, who could be dark horses in qualifying.
"We've had some changes: obviously we have a new coach now (Anna Signeul) and also some new players," Korpela continued. "It was time for the younger players to step up and they've done it well. That we're kind of a surprise package for the others is one of our strengths. We've changed some things in our game and the team's also changed. Opponents don't know what to expect."
Korpela is a likeable character and the fact she plays at the highest level at Bayern, and takes those same standards with her into the national team, is an additional advantage.
"The level is really high at Bayern," she said. "That's how the team gets better. Individual players improve when you're not satisfied with the status quo. You always want to do everything better. There aren't that many players in Finland and maybe they don't have to work that hard because the competition in the team isn't that high. That's something everyone has to remember: always demand more and more from yourself and also from your team-mates. That's how the team gets better."
Korpela fact file
- Place of birth: Oulu, Finland
- Clubs: FC Honka Espoo, Kolbotn IL, Lillestrom SK Kvinner, Tyreso FF, Bayern Munich
- National team debut: 7 March 2007 against Sweden at the Algarve Cup
- Honours: German championship (twice), Finnish championship (three times), Finnish Cup (twice)
- Participated at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup 2006 in Russia