Match Preview: Russia (a)

Euro 2020. Group B, Game 2

On Wednesday evening, Finland continue their Euros adventure in neighboring St. Petersburg, where waiting for them is the old bear, freshly riled from a beating at the hands of Belgium. Kick off is 16:00 Finland Time.

The squad: With the unforgettable events of Saturday night’s win over Denmark seared into the memories, one overlooked fact could be that, Kanerva took a couple of risks up top and at right back, that paid off. In defusing the Danish press, Jukka Raitala put in one of his best performances in a Finland shirt in recent memory while Tim Sparv rolled back the years covering ground in the middle of the park and Joel Pohjanpalo provided the historic finish that handed Finland three points. Additionally, while substitutes Kauko and Schüller provided bite in midfield, every player gave a strong enough performance to keep their place. Even a minor toe injury to Joona Toivio is likely to be taped and overlooked, such was the solidity of our defensive display. Kanerva may be looking at the effectiveness of our passing, or making sure Glen Kamara can get into the game more, though the Russian midfield should offer more space and less pace than the Danes. Expect an unchanged eleven and a patient approach, for once all the pressure will be on the home side if they come out swinging, they won’t provide as tough a test as the Danes, we should be able to counter and prosper.

Opposition: Critical mistakes from Andrey Semenov and goalkeeper Anton Shunin handed Belgium a first half lead in Russia’s opening game, before Romelu Lukaku’s breakaway finish crowned a miserable night for the home side. That continued a tricky run for coach Stanislav Cherhesov, a former keeper with the USSR. In their preparations, Russia struggled in a draw against Poland side that rested its star players and were fortunate to get a penalty to win 1-0 against Bulgaria. Then days before the tournament promising young left winger Andrey Mostovoy tested positive for covid-19 and was replaced by Roman Evgenyev, a centre back at Dynamo Moscow.

Since qualifying for Euro2020 Russia have been beaten by Sweden, Turkey, Slovakia and Serbia (5-0) and have struggled to draw against Hungary and Moldova, that’s only three wins in their last 12 games. Behind this lies uncertainty at the back and in the formation in general. Russia played a 4-2-3-1 formation, hoping to stifle Belgium’s midfield in the opening game but recently Cherchesev has been using wing-backs with a back three to provide cover for the uncertain Semenov with full back Mario Fernandes better going forward than tracking back. The Belgium game saw two injuries for the Russians, veteran full back Yuri Zhirkov and winger Dale Kuzyaev limped off, the former not yet back in training is likely to miss out, Kuzyaev though has returned to fitness and is likely to start. The former Legia Warsaw manager now has a real dilemma, as Russia’s back three, like Finland’s is designed to offer a good platform for counter attacks. Given their opening defeat, Russia will need to be attack-minded, a draw will do them little good heading into the final round against Denmark in Copenhagen.

On the front foot all eyes are on Artem Dzubya. The two-meter-target man is also good with his feet and has notched 37 goals since turning 30 at Zenit St. Petersburg. Equally important however is Monaco playmaker Aleksandr Golovin, who is tehnically adept, has great vision and is vital in connecting the play, feeding the ball wide to get Dzubya the opportunities he thrives on.
This is not a vintage Russian team, though they have a potent attack, their foundations present a real opportunity to Kanerva’s men. After disappointment against Belgium, Russia will need to get something against Finland, which may suit our game plan perfectly.

Previous: Finland have not beaten Russia since they became independent (beating Russia as the “Grand Duchy” at the 1912 Olympics). In their most recent incarnation it’s a case of four games and four defeats, against the USSR it was five draws and eight defeats from thirteen. What a time to start.

P:4, W:0, D:0, L:4, GF:1, GA:15

Referee: Danny Makkelie, Netherlands – 38 year old Whistler. One of the younger refs at the tournament, the Dutch whistler took charge of the opening game which Italy won 3-0 but featured two controversial handball decisions. He is however seen as one of the best officials at the tournament reffing internationals and champs league games for many years and was also selected to ref the Greek Cup Final in preparation for this tournament. He does like to let the game flow but 8 reds in his last 50, tells you he’s no pushover.

Broadcast: Live on YLE 2 and on YLE Areena, studio starts at 15:00.

Oppo view: Russian Football News – From the Russian perspective, it’s a really hard game to call. Dzyuba was on fire during the Qualifiers, only Harry Kane scored more. However, he has now not scored in four games which is his longest barren run since those qualifying games. Stanislav Cherchesov’s selection of both the squad in general & in particular the Belgium game worried many across the nation. He abandoned his tried & tested back-three and individual errors have been rampant.

On paper, Russia probably have the quality to win the game but there is no evident identity & rely far too much on Dzyuba’s goals. Finland’s low block will cause Russia issues, their general lack of pace in key areas causes them to be troubled against packed defences.

With error-prone Andrey Semonov in defence, it’s hard to see them able to keep a clean sheet. 1-1 would be my bet, which could very well see Finland through to the knockout stages.

FFS Predicts:
Keke: Despite the extraordinary circumstances of our win on Saturday I think the Huuhkajat will have taken confidence from their display against Denmark. The defence was solid when it needed to be and I think this Russia side will possibly allow our midfield to express itself a little more. I predict a 0-2 win that will take us to 6 points from 2 games. Oi Suomi On.

Mark H: Do we dare to dream? There’s alot in this Russian defence to like, and though Dzoubya is a threat, he’s the kind Paulus and Joona will be used to. It’ll be tight and nervous, I think I’ll stick with 1-1, Pukki will get one on the break.

Mark W: Before the tournament started, Russia was the team that FFS was most optimistic about taking point from. Having watched the first game for each team, my opinion hasn’t changed. I expect Finland to start cautiously, soaking up Russian pressure and hitting on the counter. I’m also looking forward to seeing more of that quick one & two touch play in the final third of the pitch. Finland 2-1 Russia.

Rich: This was the match everyone thought would be Finland’s best chance of points before Saturday. The Finnish fans are optimistic… Toivio had a toe injury which would be a huge loss if he doesn’t make it, but he should start and I’ll also stick with Saturday’s prediction of a 1-1 draw.

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