Match Preview: Kazakhstan (h)

World Cup Qualifying, Group D, game 3.

The arrival of the Kazakhstan squad to Helsinki provides Finnish fans something of a rarity a saturday afternoon kick off. Ordinarily, the Kazakhs would provide a stubborn but ultimately beatable opponent, but they’ve proven too tough for Ukraine and frustrated the French during their creditable 2-0 defeat. If Finland are to stand any chance of a play-off spot, this is a must-win game. Kick off at the Olympiastadion is 16.00.

Squad: Robin Lod is out injured, Joni Kauko is not match fit so also didn’t make the squad, Glen Kamara is suspended. Finland kept a clean bill of health from the Wales game, though by the same token there were no performances that would have changed Markku Kanerva’s plans heading into this tie. Tim Sparv looks to have overcome injury concerns and will start alongside Rasmus Schüller in the middle of the park. Though Kanerva opted for a 4-4-2 on Wednesday, it’s likely he’ll revert to three at the back as the visitors will sit deep allowing Finland time and possession. It was interesting that Onni Valakari, in good form and the subject of many an exciting transfer rumour, didn’t feature against Wales, making him likely to get the nod this afternoon. Pukki and Pohjanpalo should lead the line, but the Huuhkajat won’t be able to get in behind their opponents, they’ll have to move them around and play through the gaps. In his pre match press conference Rive said:

Kazakhstan have proven to be a talented side, this game will certainly be difficult. I believe that if we play at our level we can get three points.

Opponents: Two draws against a tough Ukraine side and a 2-0 home defeat against France has given The Hawks creditable start to Group D, which they were expected to prop-up for the duration. This decent form aside though Kazakhstan have won just three of their last twenty, against Lithuania and San Marino (twice). Rotor Volgograd forward Aleksey Shchyotkin and Astana centre-mid Abzal Beysebekov are regulars for the national side and out of the squad with injury and suspected Corona. Two-goal hero from Wednesday night Ruslan Valiullin was playing only his fourth game in national colours. The majority of the visiting squad plies its trade in the Kazakh premier league, though there are two players to keep an eye out for. In midfield the tenacious Georgy Zukhov can be a handful when breaking up play while Bakhtiyar Zaynutdinov is an attacking midfielder with CSKA Moscow who likes to drift wide to find space and link up play with his strikers, with 7 goals in 17 international appearances he will carry the main threat from open play. The visitors will set up with a 5-4-1, play a low block and counter using long diagonal balls and aggressive full backs down the flanks. If the Huuhkajat can close down the likes of Zukhov and close the space between centre backs and wing backs, they should remain untroubled. Without the ball, expect to see a yellow bus in their final third and some meaty challenges.

Previous: Finland have met Kazakhstan three times in their history drawing one and winning two, last time out Teemu Tainio and “Losa” Eremenko helped Roy Hodgson to a 2-1 win.

P:3, W:2, D:1, L:0, GF:4, GA:1

Referee: Sergey Ivanov, Russia – 37 year old Whistler with Russian Premier League and Europa League background. A little on the lenient side, only 2 straight red cards in his last 50 matches, he won’t be one to tolerate rolling around. This will also be the first Finland game to feature VAR, let’s hope for a low-key debut.

Broadcast: Live on Nelonen in Finland and on Viasat Jalkapallo and on the Ruutu and Viaplay app. Studio starts at 15.30.

FFS-tradamous: (get it)

Keke – Recent results have shown that this Kazakhstan team are not content with being the group whipping boys. Their squad plays almost exclusively in their home league and therefore they know each other’s game intimately making them a solid side. I do however believe that at home in Helsinki with the fans of the Pohjoiskaarre behind them Huuhkajat will have enough. I expect a more familiar looking starting 11 to come away 2-0 winners. I can see a Pukki adding to his tally and also Jolle getting on the score sheet. Oi Suomi On.

Mark H – It’s gonna be a tight one. I always feel uncomfortable when Finland are the favourites and Kazakhstan have got “upset” written all over them, but I’m still going 2-1 Finland, tight but functional win.

Mark W – I was feeling bullish about the Kazakhstan game until the Ukraine result, which surprised me as much as it surprised Rive. Now, I’m a little unsure BUT we really need more than one point and should field a strong team, so I’ll say 2-1 Finland.

Rich – After a restrained performance on Wednesday, most of the first XI will return. Kazakhstan are perhaps more resilient than people hoped, but Finland’s experience should help and if Pukki is in clinical and gets decent service, he should take a chance. 1-0 Finland

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