World Cup Qualifier, Group D – GAME 1
On Wednesday night Finland kick off their World Cup Qualifying campaign against Bosnia-Herzegovina in a, once again, empty Olympiastadion. Finland have introduced a couple of new faces to the squad to cover some injury concerns, while the visitors are in the middle of a difficult run with a new manager and a concerning injury list, kick-off is 21:45 Finland time.
The Squad: Markku Kanerva has lost a couple of first team regulars due to injury, with first choice ‘keeper Lukas Hradecky is out with an Achilles tendon injury and Jere Uronen is out with Covid. Sauli Väsänen came off injured at the weekend, while brother Leo is still in the off-season in Sweden while Fredrik Jensen is out with a thigh problem. In come Carljohan Eriksson of Mjällby for his first call-up and Warta Poznan centre back Robert Ivanov for his first call up outside of Dubai training camps, though neither are likely to feature in this game. Rive’s first choice line up are all technically fit, but with Nordic and US based players still in “pre-season” it is possible we’ll see some surprises. Niko Hämäläinen has been favoured at left back recently, while the real conundrum lies up top. Teemu Pukki is in blistering form for Norwich, but who will play alongside him is a tough choice. Joel Pohjanpalo is back but hasn’t played a full 90 minutes since returning from his ankle injury, while Marcus Forss took his chance, scoring against France last October, but has been limited to sub appearances at Brentford and hasn’t scored since December. Given his form in Cyprus, Kanerva may consider moving Onni Valakari a bit further forward to support Pukki, as his style of play is most similar to long term absentee Jasse Tuominen. Also in stunning form, Jesse Joronen will come in for the injured Hradecky, having conceded only once in the last five games for Brescia in Serie B. Expect the standard Kanerva 4-4-2, low block and quick counter.
Bosnia Herzegovina: This will be the first game in charge of the national team for new coach Ivaylo Petev, who signed on for the national side in January having previously managed in Poland, Cyprus and Saudi Arabia. His claim to fame is, either managing Levski Sofia for one day before fans ripped the shirt off his back, or being sacked by Dinamo Zagreb for ending the 2016 season trophy-less for the first time in 12 years. He joins Bosnia & Herzegovina with the national side on a terrible run and with some big players missing. The Dragons have won only once in their last ten games, and that was a home win over Liechtenstein, a run that has seen them drop one place below Finland into 56th place in the FIFA rankings. Bournemouth ‘keeper Asimir Begovic, centre backs Ermin Bicakcic (Hoffenheim) and Toni Sunjic (Guoan) midfielders Muhamed Besic (Everton) and Edin Visca (Basaksehir) and striker Milan Duric (Salernitana) are all out with either injuries or Covid, a group that shares 268 caps between them. Petev’s preferred style of play is a wide 4-2-3-1 with a burly target man, which he’ll be able to build around the veteran striker Edin Dzeko and Barcelona playmaker Miralem Pjanic. Both are however are struggling for form, Dzeko 35, picked up a slight knock at the weekend as Roma were beaten by Napoli and has scored only one Serie A goal this calendar year. Pjanic has spent most of his Barcelona time on the bench although he only recently recovered from an ankle injury. Stars aside, the visitors don’t have too many other attacking threats, winder Miroslav Stevanovic is pacey but is well-settled in the swiss league, Haris Duljevic on the other flank has a good cross, but is a squad player at Nimes in Ligue Un, and hasn’t scored in his 2 years in France. At the back Sead Kolasinac has pedigree and can play either at full back or centre back but the on-loan Arsenal stopper, doesn’t have much support, and will likely be partnered by Sinisa Sanicanin, currently playing for Serbian side Vojvodina. With doubts over their big players, a hefty injury list and new manager who is no stranger to controversy, expect a side that has come ready to slow the game down and play dirty. With tensions already high after last week’s Europa League incident there are all the ingredients for this evening to turn nasty, so if Finland can keep cool heads and test a vulnerable away side with pace and poise, Finland should take three points.
Referee: Anastasios Sidiropolous (Greece) This Greek whistler oversaw Tim Sparv’s last game as Larissa beat Apollon 2-0 away, Sparv came off the bench and wasn’t carded. That act of clemency, though, my underly a referee who has sent off 8 players in his last 16 games, so don’t expect a free-flowing game.
Previous: Finland have only met Bosnia & Herzegovina three times, first with a 1-0 friendly defeat back in 2004 and the double from the last Euro qualifying campaign that involved a lovely home win but a bitterly disappointing 4-1 away defeat.
P:3, W:1, D:0, L:2, GF:4, GA:5
Mark H: 2-0
Rich N: 2-1
Keke M: 2-0 (Pukki and a Pohjanpalo second half goal on his return)
Mark W: absent.