Match Preview: Kazakhstan (a)

World Cup Qualifying, Group D, Game 6

On Tuesday afternoon Markku Kanerva’s Finland side travel to Kazakhstan looking to salvage something from the wreckage of Saturday’s home defeat to Ukraine. Playing the hosts in Astana, a plucky minnow who have taken points from both Ukraine and Bosnia-Herzegovina recently and could (in a worst case scenario) send the Huuhkajat to the bottom of the group with an unlikely win.

Squad: Nikolai Alho has been ruled out following his injury against Ukraine, Rasmus Schüller will return from suspension and should slot back into the side replacing Thomas Lam. Alho’s injury could provide an opportunity for Ilmari Niskanen, who has impressed at Dundee and is good option at attacking wing-back. In his pre-match conference Markku Kanerva said:

By no means can we lose this game. Kazakhstan has shown that they are a good team. They have been able to score five goals. (for us) Winning is easier if your head stays clear. It’s been a pretty good recipe for us over the years – if we can keep a clean sheet, we can score at least one goal and take the points.

Which tends to indicate he won’t be looking for a raucous response from the Huuhkajat but a composed and controlled approach. Expect the usual back three, with more offensive wing-backs than usual, but with few other changes than the side that took the field on Saturday.

Opponents: Heading into this double-header coach Talgat Baysufinov lost five players due to injury which compounded an injury list that already included two of Kazakhstan’s goalscorers from this group stage, full-back, Ruslan Valiulin and attacking midfielder Serikzhan Muzhikov (both of FC Tobol). That dent to the squad was visible on Saturday, when Bosnia-Herzegovina eased passed Kazakhstan when many locals had been optimistic of at least another point. Looking at their opponents, Rive commented:

We play on an artificial pitch where the ball moves well. We need to think about how we can get the ball under control and move Kazakhstan’s shape. They have a tight package that we need to get moving and find those gaps so we can break into good positions. Preparing is really challenging because we had a travel day yesterday. Last time against Kazakhstan we had 14 goal attempts. That’s enough chances but, they could have been even more dangerous. We had a few good shots and got into the box a few times, but we didn’t quite finish. There were a lot of good things we’re trying to bring to this game. One goal was enough last time, hopefully we can do more tomorrow.

With nobody is expecting any surprises from the home team, a static 5-4-1, deploying a low block and generally frustrating tactics. In open play Bahktiyar Zaynutdinov (of CSKA Moscow) is the one to watch and will act as the main creative threat, their other attacking threat Ashkat Tagybergen, will likely not be fit enough for the whole game and will be saved for a second half cameo. While the hosts have proven a handful from set-pieces also.

Previous: Last time out Joel Pohjanpalo’s 60th minute header separated the two teams in Helsinki. The past time the teams met in Astana, Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyypiä got the goals in a 2-0 win.

P:4, W:3, D:1, L:0, GF:5, GA:1

Referee: Halis Özkahya (Turkey) – Europa League level whistler who will be taking charge of only his 10th full international fixture. Only 3 red cards dished out in his last 50 matches makes him one of the most lenient in Europe.

Broadcast: Live on Nelonen studio starts at 16:50. Also available on internet service Ruutu (subscription required) Elisa ViaPlay and V Sport Jalkapallo (NB: not V Sport Football).

FFS Predicts:

Mark H: Well, we need a reaction and it is almost a tradition to leave it until it’s too late to start playing, I’m gonna be optimistic, let’s say the shackles come off, Finland win 3-0.

Mark W: I’m expecting an improvement on the Ukraine game, both the performance and the result. I’m hoping the team will create more chances for Teemu Pukki, who should be able to find more space, and goal scoring opportunities, than against Ukraine. Kazakhstan 0-2 Finland.

Keke: I am usually very confident before a Finland game but Saturday’s defeat really took the wind out of my sails… This game certainly won’t be a cake walk for the Huuhkajat but it will be good to have Rade Schüller back in the middle to add some much needed bite and with Niskanen likely to get the nod I can see us going forward with purpose. The Kazakhs have proven that they can be a team to be taken seriously but I think we can nick it 0-1! Oi Suomi On

Rich: Finland need a strong reaction to an insipid show on Saturday. Too many players failed to perform and have a mountain to climb. The return of Schuller will make things more fluid while the defence can only improve. Kazakhstan have nothing to lose and are unlikely to sit back too much which should leave some room. Everything crossed for a Finland win, I’ll go for 2-1.

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