World Cup Qualifying, Group D, game 4.
On Tuesday night Markku Kanerva’s Huuhkajat travel to Lyon to face a struggling France side, full of quality but down on their luck. Any points from this away side will keep Finland in a play-off place, which may be necessary as Bosnia-Herzegovina play Kazakhstan in the group’s other game, kick-off is at 21:45, Finland time, at the Groupama stadium in Lyon.
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Squad: Finland have no fresh injury concerns heading into the match, Glen Kamara returns from suspension and is likely to slot straight back into the starting 11. Tim Sparv only played for a few minutes against Kazakhstan partly because he was rested with this game in mind and partly because Rasmus Schüller played very reliably in the middle of the pitch on Saturday. Rive has a positive kind of headache there, but will likely go with Sparv for his experience and ability to play through a high press. Usually Rive would also pick only one out-and-out striker, but with Robin Lod out injured, and with Pohjanpalo and Pukki looking sharp, it’s also likely Finland will stick with two up top. Neither Jukka Raitala nor Joona Toivio played against Kazakhstan although both got minutes against Wales, they’ll also likely come back into the fold tonight. The plan is simple, sit back and frustrate the home side, draw them out quickly counter through the press, then who knows, if Uronen crosses for Jolle again, happy days.
Opponents: Dayot Upamecano, Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich), Ngolo Kante (Chelsea) and Kylian Mbappe have all withdrawn from the France squad with injury. While Didier Deschamps was already without Bayern defenders Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez Milan striker Olivier Giroud and Barcelona forward Ousmanne Dembele going into this triple header. The world champions have not won in the last five games and, last time out, a 1-1 draw in Ukraine saw the home side ride their luck, but also create chances. A long injury list, a run of below par results and the third game in a week may be just about enough to sour the atmosphere in the Groupama stadium. Deschamps prefers to play a 4-3-3 with a high press with full backs joining the attack and two wide forwards cutting inside. Both Karim Benzema and Anthony Martial have played the centre forward role, with the latter grabbing the equaliser against Ukraine. Their squad is star-studded and even with their injury list will still be able to field a starting 11 of mostly champs league level players. Finland will need to slow the game down, defend deep and frustrate the hosts.
Previous: Roughly a year ago Marcus Forss and Onni Valakari stunned Les Blues in Lyon nabbing a 2-0 away win. Aside from that Finland’s record against France is woeful, having lost every other tie dating back to 1960.
P:9, W:1, D:0, L:8, GF:5, GA:18
Referee: Deniz Aytekin, Germany – 10 reds in his last 50 games, this whistler is card happy. He’s also no stranger to controversy, he refused Barca’s incredible comeback against PSG, in 2017, when UEFA judged him to have “failed in the performance of his duties” awarding a penalty and other advantages to Barca who went through 6-5 on aggregate having trailed 4-0 from the first leg, recently also ref’ed HJK’s 3-0 win over Neftçi Baki.
Broadcast: Live on Nelonen and Viasat Jalkapallo and on the Ruutu and Viaplay apps, live on Sky Sports in the UK. Studio starts at 21.00.
Opposition view: @JeanSaintMarc French Football Journalist, “a dirty and depressing goalless draw is quite possible, but maybe 1-0 for France”
Keke – nyt mennään! I can’t help but think back to that amazing win in Paris that saw us defeat the world champions and that send tingles down my spine in anticipation for tonight! The team spirit that we have in abundance in the Huuhkajat camp is absent from the French set up and I believe that will come into play. Obviously Les Bleus are the favourites but I think that if we can soak up some pressure early on and frustrate them they could get angry and crumble and that’s when we hit them on the counter. I am going 0-2 Finland (again)! Oi Suomi On…
Mark H – There are a lot of good omens heading into the tie, but in a way that might work against us. If we get anything from the game, it’ll probably cause a mini crisis in French football and that might serve to focus minds in the away dugout, heart says a draw, but my head and wallet are going 2-0 France.
Mark W – Forget history between these two sides. 60 years of defeats and the stunning win between two reserve sides last year, don’t mean too much. I’m looking at current form. The Huuhkajat have it, France don’t. I’m really looking forward to this game and with a sense of optimism. It will be tight… France 0-1 Finland.
Rich – France under pressure is nothing new – but they have their backs against the wall. Finland will be looking to defend, defend, defend and hope for a break. I fear it will be similar to the Belgium match at Euro 2020, where the team held out well but couldn’t go the distance. France 2-1 Finland.