Match preview: Wales (a)

UEFA Nations League B, Group 4

On Wednesday night the Huuhkajat travel to Cardiff for their final Nations League game of the campaign. The maths is simple, win and Finland top the group and are promoted to League A. Anything else and we stay in League B and likely Pot 4 for the World Cup qualifying groups that are drawn in December. Kick-off is 21:45 Finland time. 

Finland: Joel Pohjanpalo will need to have an operation after damaging his ankle in the Bulgaria win, Juha Pirinen has also left the squad with a knock, while Tim Sparv’s booking keeps him out of the game. The injury to Jolle and Sparv’s suspension, create two problems for Kanerva up top and in the middle, that may be solved with the 5-3-2 formation. That leaves Finland vulnerable down the flanks, but more solid in the middle of the pitch. Also Uronen handled Bale well in September and Nikolai Alho has had a good run of games at full back. If Rive mixes it up, he’ll likely turn to Daniel O’Shaugnessy at the back and Rasmus Schüller in the middle. If he sticks with his traditional line up it’s likely Robin Lod would partner Teemu Pukki centrally with either Pyry Soiri or Ilmari Niskanen coming in at wide right. Either way, Finland will look to keep the ball and happily play it around in their own half and look to draw out the Welsh. 

Wales: Manager Ryan Giggs was arrested earlier in the month by Greater Manchester police and will be replaced in the touch line by Robert Page for this game. Goalkeepers Wayne Hennessey and Adam Davies are both injured, Juventus’ Aaron Ramsey left the squad with an injury, Liverpool’s Ben Woodburn tested positive for Covid and is also out, Spurs full back Ben Davies was booked against Ireland and is suspended. This Wales team has racked up five 1-0 wins and a 0-0 draw, so aside from an unlikely Gareth Bale renaissance this should be a slow-burner. It’s also ten home games without defeat for the Dragons, who need to go back to 2018 since their last defeat in Cardiff. Expect the hosts to play five in the midfield, killing the game centrally with defensive-mids Ampadu and Smith and attacking down the flanks with Bale and Daniel James. Winning the battle down the flanks and playing through a middle are both very tough asks, if Robert Taylor and Glen Kamara can handle the ball with care Pukki and Lod should have enough skill to take on a defensive line that aren’t to clever on the floor.

Referee: Jesus Gil (Spain) – Spanish whistler who notably sent off Harry Maguire and Reece James as Denmark best England a month ago. He also sent off Nicolas Orangendi as Glen Kamara’s Rangers drew 3-3 with Benfica a fortnight ago. He’s not usually card happy but he did send off Gareth Bale as Real Madrid drew with Villarreal about a year ago.  

Broadcast: live on Nelonen and streaming on Ruutu. 

FFS-tradamus… Predictions:

Mark H: Finland are going to need someone to step up and make the difference tonight. I think Wales probably won’t attack the game, so it will be a slow burn. I’ve been predicting a full, dirty win for a couple of games, so using “stopped clock theory” I’m going with 0-1 Finland win.

Keke: I can see a cagey start as both teams really won’t want to lose but ultimately it is us who need to take the initiative – if Kamara can control the midfield and feed the previous games’ Man of the Match Robin Lod then I think our attack can make it happen. I’m going for a group winning 0-1 win for Huuhkajat

Rich: A group decider is all we wanted, but Wales have the advantage. Finland being forced into changes might make things a little more open, while Wales seem content to keep it tight. I think it’ll be a gallant draw, 1-1.

Mark W: I’m a little nervous about this game. While Wales have had a very steady, unspectacular Nations League 2020, they are unbeaten and have not conceded a goal. They also have the flair in the side to create chances. They may not have scored many goals, four in five games, but I have this horrible feeling they may get a late winner or equaliser. 💙 My heart says Wales 1-2 Finland, 🤔 My head says Wales 1-1 Finland.

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