Tuesday night is “crunch time” in Group J as Finland host Armenia in the Veritas Stadium. Markku Kanerva’s men need a reaction after failing on all counts in Zenica last Saturday, in their path are an Armenia side, who still carry faint hopes of qualifying. Nothing less than a win will do for the visitors, failure to win for the Huuhkajat could see Bosnia-Herzegovina move into the qualification spot.
The Squad: Paulus Arajuuri will be out for 2 – 4 weeks following his injury on Saturday, Tim Sparv will face a late fitness test after hobbling off in the same game, Lassi Lappalainen, who missed the last match with a stomach bug, may return. Given the squad at hand, Sauli Väisänen is the only viable option to replace Arajuuri, he will need to find his composure, after struggling in Zenica. One of the few bright spots from that game was the return of Joel Pohjanpalo, who took a while to get into the game, but showed his usual hunger and eye for goal grabbing Finland’s consolation. He should absolutely start as should the returning Lappalainen, if fit, given the lackluster performances of Soiri and Tuominen. If Sparv doesn’t make it, Kanerva usually prefers Rasmus Schüller, though Joni Kauko is in form for his club and is due a shot. The only other change likely would be Albin Granlund, for Jukka Raitala at right back. Expect a 4-4-2 with Pukki and Pohjanpalo up top, and hopefully an energetic and positive display from the home side.
Opponents: It will be one year and two days since Armen Gyulbudaghyants took over as manager of the Armenian national team, for a 1-0 defeat to Gibraltar. Since then, his side has won five, drawn twice and lost only three. That’s good form for an Armenia side currently ranked 96th in the world. That being said, last Saturday, the team known as “the collective” struggled to a 1-1 draw away to Liechtenstein, and though technically compotent in the reverse fixture did not trouble Finland greatly in Yerevan back in March. Star player Henrik Mkhitaryan is out injured. Armenia also have an issue between the sticks, with patience running out in Aram Ayrapetayan, who played poorly against Liechtenstein and has kept just two clean sheets, conceding 17 in the other 9 games. Armenia played a 4-3-3 at the weekend, but struggled to really build a pattern play. Usually, they adopt a less direct 4-2-3-1 and tend to build everything through Mkhitaryan. With the Roma midfielder sidelined, much of the creative work will fall to Saturday’s goalscorer Tigran Barseghyan, though the FC Kaysar (Kazahkstan) midfielder has a touch of the “Eremenko Jr” about him. The real danger man for the visitors will be FC Sochi forward Aleksandre Karapetian. The bearded, six-foot target man, has a physical presence that won’t be easy for Väisänen and off the ball movement that won’t be easy for Toivio, with five goals in nine international appearances, he will find the target if afforded a chance.
Previous: Fredrik Jensen and Pyry Soiri sealed a 2-0 away win six months ago, all told this will be the sixth meeting between the two sides, of the previous five, Finland have won five drawn one.
P:5, W:4, D:1, L:0, GF: 8, GA: 1
Referee: Jesus Gil (Spain) – 35 year old La Liga and Champs League referee, with internatoinal experience. Last reffed a Finland game back in 2017, when the Huuhkajat lost 2-0 to Turkey. In that game he booked no fewer than six Finns.
Broadcast: Live on ViaFree, kick-off 19:00, studio 18:00.