Match Preview: Finland vs Bulgaria (h)

UEFA Nations League B, Group 4 – 11.10.2020

On Sunday night, Markku Kanerva and his Huuhkajat will look to put the nightmare of Gdańsk behind them and resume their Nations League campaign against Bulgaria, Group 4’s lowest FIFA ranked team. This will be the first return of fans to the Olympiastadion (around 8,000) since 2015, Finland are still looking for the first home win since the renovation.  Kick off is at 19:00 Finnish time.

Huuhkajat: Thomas Lam and Lassi Lappalainen are both out for the Bulgaria game, Jasse Tuominen looks like he’ll be sidelined long term with an ACL injury, Robin Lod didn’t make the trip from Minnesota. Teemu Pukki, Tim Sparv and Jukka Raitala come back into the fold while senior players rested against Poland, Arajuuri, Toivio, Hradecky, Kamara, Granlund will return to their starting births. Kanerva has mentioned a tight game coming up, and that lessons have been learned from Gdańsk. Expect Uronen and probably Granlund as wing backs with Pukki and Pohjanpalo up top. Against Ireland a month ago Robert Taylor played the role of playmaker in the midfield three and looked OK coming off the bench last week. If it goes to plan, Finland should enjoy a lot of possession and look to tire their opponents while breaking with pace. 

BulgariaThe Lions were beaten 3-1 in their Euro qualifiers play-off game last week by Hungary. That defeat continues a run of just one win in two years (or 17 matches) of football. Regular captain Petar Zanev (CSKA Sofia) was absent from the squad before the Hungary game, stand-in captain Georgi Kostadinov (Arsenal Tula), Borislav Tsonev (Levski Sofia) and forward Spas Delev (Arda Kardzhali) have left the squad with injuries. Bulgaria’s current squad is light on firepower, Midtjylland’s Boxhidar Kraev, has the most goals in the squad with three. Kraev usually leads the line on his own in either a 4-5-1 or a 5-4-1 which looks to stifle either the midfield or the final third. Against Finland, the set up will most likely be the former with Galin Ivanov (CSKA 1948) and Bircent Karagaren (Lokamotiv Plovdiv) providing the width. Pre-game Kanerva has stated that Bulgaria haven’t been getting the results that their performances deserve recently but, realistically, this team didn’t offer too many problems to Ireland (a 1-1 draw) or Wales (a 1-0 defeat) in the Nations league last month, nor to Hungary last week, and these are not vintage eras for any of those teams. If Finland keep their heads and the ball, they should be able to break these opponents down. 

Previous: P:8, W:0, D:1, L:7, GF:3, GA:19

Finland have never beaten Bulgaria over 8 games that stretch back to 1961. Their last encounter in 2008 ended in a 2-1 defeat, Jari Litmanen converting a penalty for a lacklustre, Stewart Baxter team.

Referee: Erik Lambrechts (BEL) – Europa League-level whistler, currently officiating the Belgian top flight. With 4 reds in his last 50 games, and only 7 straight reds in his last 100, he’s a little on the lenient side. 

Broadcast: Live on ViaFree, broadcast starts at 18:00 and on JIM from 19:00 (Finland Time)

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