Match Preview: Belgium (n)

Group B, Game 3

On Monday night, Finland return to the Krestovsky stadium for their final Group B game against a Belgium side ranked number one in the world. Whether Finland make it out of the Groups depends partly on on this result and partly on results elsewhere, kick off is 22:00 Finland Time.

The squad: The general response to the Russia defeat was frustration with selection and substitutions, but also appreciation and pride for how the Huuhkajat have applied themselves. We are now more aware of how affected Pukki and others have been by injuries. Those concerns aside, Kanerva will likely make only one change heading into this all or nothing tie, replacing the industrious Rasmus Schüller with captain Tim Sparv. Robert Taylor was not named on the bench against Russia, if he remains out, it may leave a chance for Onni Valakari to shine off the bench, as he did against World Champions France back in October. One ray of hope for Finland would be down the flanks, where Belgium are often left open and Jukka Raitala and Jere Uronen have had some joy in previous matches. Also in their back three Vermaelen, Verthongen and Alderweireld aren’t blessed with pace, Teemu Pukki won and scored a penalty the last time Norwich faced off against those defenders at Spurs. Sit back, keep the ball when possible, slow down the pace until the counter, sounds easy enough, our tactics are clear, much depends on the type of Belgium team we face.

Opposition: First things first, Belgium don’t do 0-0. Their last goalless game was a friendly against Portugal 4 years ago, their last competitive 0-0 was way back in 2014, and the last game in which they failed to score was 3 years ago, a 1-0 defeat away to France. Although back in action and in scoring the winner against Denmark, Kevin de Bruyne is currently playing with a fractured eye socket and cheek bone following a champs league final clash with Antonio Rüdiger. The Man City dynamo will be one of many in line for rotation with Roberto Martinez fully focused on the knockout stages. Eden Hazard has had an injury prone season and has come under media criticism recently both may start but neither will complete 90 minutes. Romelu Lukaku was also an ever-present for Inter in their triumphant Serie A campaign and like many of Belgium’s “golden generation” is over 30 and with the job done and many predicting the world’s top ranked team to go all the way, a fair amount of them will be rested. Although the exact line up is hard to predict, Martinez’s playing style will not change. A back-three with pressing wide midfielders a powerful lone striker with two tricky play-makers either side of him. This will be a tough ask for Finland, the game plan will be similar to the one against Denmark, sit deep, frustrate, counter precisely, a cross between miracle of Gijon and last years win in Paris.

Previous: Finland have an unusually solid record against Belgium, having not lost a full international against the Red Devils since 1968. Last time out, could possibly be described at the “highlight” of the Hans Backe era as Romelu Lukaku cancelled out Kasper Hämäläinen’s opener in the last minute of the game. A 2-0 win back in 2007 also introduced Finland fans to Bubi, the Huuhkaja from which our national team now takes its name.

P:11, W:4, D:4, L:3, GF:19, GA:20

Referee: Felix Brych (Germany) – 45 year old Bundesliga whistler, and regular feature at champions league and international level. Byrch tends to lean a little toward the defensive team, so much so, that he had a high profile run in with Jurgen Klopp earlier this season. He’s only awarded one penalty in his last 20 games.

Broadcast: Live on YLE and YLE Areena, studio starts at 21:00 local time.

Oppo view: (The Belgian Football Podcast) As Belgium have now qualified for the knockout stages, we would expect some rotation/resting from Roberto Martinez in his team selection. The Red Devils are also nursing some minor injury concerns…so are likely to be careful in that respect. The team will still be expected to win comfortably so a 2 or 3 goal margin shouldn’t be ruled out. Belgium will be expecting another tough game as Finland can still qualify themselves so it is by no means a foregone conclusion. Belgium started their last match against Denmark very poorly and will be keen to avoid a repeat performance like that, despite turning it around in the end.

How Finland Became The Eagle Owls

FFS Predicts:
Keke – so here we are, match day 3 in Group B and we have a chance to progress to the knockout phase. Belgium are obvious favourites but having already qualified and with one or two injuries to think about we could see a slightly weaker starting 11. Finland will need to be at their best but with our team ethic and many Finland fans still in St Petersburg cheering the Huuhkajat on I believe that we can summon the spirit of Bubi and put in the performance we need. Belgium to score first and Finland to nick goal in the second half! 1-1 and into the next round. Oi Suomi on!

Mark H – it’s crunch time, and were gonna have to get something against the best. It’s a massive ask, although I do think we’ve been playing well and creating chances, I think we can nick one and belgium always score so, 1-1.

Mark W – Voi, voi, voi. This is tough. My heart say a draw and we progress. My head says that whatever team Beligium select will be a stern test for the Huuhkajat. It will be intriguing to see Rive’s team selection. I’d like to see a little more strength in midfield (Sparv, Kamara, Kauko) with Lod linking up with Pukki (sorry, Jolle).
Heart = 1-1. Head = Finland 1-3 Belgium 😓

Rich – With Belgium “unleashing” Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, it seems as though Belgium will be looking to lay down a marker to the rest of the competition. But this is the biggest match in Finland’s history and a chance for the Eagle Owls to make an iconic statement. Destiny in their own hands but I fear that the other match will have a huge bearing. I see the match ending 2-1 to Belgium with Russia getting a point in the other game leaving Finland in third place, needing snookers.

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