#FINKAZ, World Cup Qualifying, Group D, Game 3
On Saturday afternoon Markku Kanerva’s Finland moved into second place in Group D with a comfortable win over Kazakhstan in the late summer sun in Helsinki.
With Helsinki covid-restrictions eased the day before he game allowing more tickets to be released the home crowd were in fine voice in the late summer sun. Kanerva reverted to the usual 5-3-2, Arajuuri, O’Shaughnessy and Leo Väisänen at the back, Alho and Uronen on the flanks, a midfield trio of Robert Taylor, Onni Valakari and Rasmus Schüller with Teemu Pukki and Joel Pohjanpalo up top.
Mark H, Keke & Rich discuss Finland 1-0 Kazakhstan
Tim Sparv’s Blog
Finland opened the game in an aggressive fashion and looked to get the ball into the Kazakhstan box at every opportunity. Though not creating a clear chance, Nikolai Alho, was a nuisance down the right, his deflected cross had pulses racing in the Kazakhstan backline on 11 minutes. After an initial Finland flourish the visitors mustered a couple of half chances. An inviting cross was headed into the side-netting by Abat Aymbetov before Hradecky spilled a cross only for Aydos Tattybaev to blast over. Those two half-chances seemed to focus minds in the Finnish ranks, and slowly improved their composure to take control of the game. Valakari’s shot deflected over, Teemu Pukki was able to waltz around the final third, backheeling a ball to Pohjanpalo who drew a smart save from Igor Shatskiy. Pukki, Robert Taylor and Alho also had decent efforts at goal as the Huuhkajat went through the gears. Finland closed the game with a decent penalty shout as Valakari’s shot smashed of a defenders arm, Russian ref Sergei Ivanov, didn’t even trouble the VAR team, being deployed for the first time in Finland.
The second half started with a brief Kazakhstan flurry, a shot from distance was parried by Hradecky, and the resulting corner took a couple of attempts before it was hoofed clear. Pukki, Talyor and Valakari worked very well together in offensive positions. Valakari had another shot deflected, then Pukki went on a mazey run before dragging his shot inches wide. Pukki then turned creator firing a ball across the box that just escaped the outstretched Pohjanpalo. Jolle didn’t have to wait long though, as the clock ticked over the hour Jere Uronen floated over an inviting cross that the Leverkusen forward headed into the far corner.
Finland continued to press and create chances but were less hurried with the goal advantage. For their part the visitors made a concerted effort to control the ball and slowly grew back into the contest until a succession of substitutions for both sides disrupted the flow of the game. Though looking to be more active on the ball, the Kazakhs didn’t really work Lukas Hradecky, bobbling shots from distance being the sum total of their threat. Kaan Kairinen and Urho Nissilä appeared from the bench, while Jensen, Forss and Tim Sparv all got minutes to see the game out, which they managed without incident.
At the final whistle Finland picked up their first win in Group D, five points from three games left the Huuhkajat in second place ahead of Ukraine on goal difference, but with two games in hand. On the pitch, a midfield trio of Valakari, Schüller and Taylor had our opponents chasing shadows and gave Finland something they’ve been missing since switching to a back 3, bodies in the final third. Next up is France, in Paris. That game is tough to predict, morale is low in the French camp following successive draws against Bosnia and Ukraine, Les Bleus have seemingly been working hard to tread water. By comparison Finland can be pretty pleased with how they’ve managed both games this week, in a play-off spot with games in hand, having not really kicked into the high gears. They’ll need to do that against the world champions, but if Finland take this as just another game to manage, they could cause an upset.