Crunch time in world cup qualifying
On Saturday afternoon Markku Kanerva’s Finland kick off the final round of games of their World Cup Qualifying campaign with success very much in their own hands. In their way however remain two arduous challenges against the current world champions next Tuesday and an away fixture in the political hotbed of Zenica, at the Stadion Bilino Polje. Kick off is 16:00 Finland time.
Squad: Finland are boosted by the return of regular players Daniel O’Shaughnessy, Jere Uronen and Marcus Forss. Juhani Ojala and Thomas Lam dropped out of the squad due to injury, replaced by Miro Tenho and Juha Pirinen. In the middle of the park there was no return for Tim Sparv nor Joni Kauko, with both struggling for match fitness. Ahead of the tie in Zenica Markku Kanerva said:
“I’m glad we have a chance to get to the finals with two games left. Everyone understands that it’s been hard work. Bosnia and Herzegovina is in the same situation, they need a victory too. The win would be extremely valuable for both teams. It will be exciting to see, if the game is tied, which one goes to make changes first. We are prepared for that. At what point and how – it remains to be seen.
If we can keep a clean sheet, we have a good chance of winning. It has been our bedrock in the past. It will be interesting to see how aggressively Bosnia-Herzegovina press during the match. We need to be able to play ourselves out of the press. It could open up the possibility of playing in behind the line when Bosnia-Herzegovina are high up.“
So, the game plan is sit, soak, play through the press and try to get in behind on the counter. It’s likely this means a return to the back three and wing-backs, which was exposed by Ukraine in Helsinki a month ago. The role of Schüller, Kamara and Lod in the middle of the pitch will be key, as well focus and discipline at that back. To get anything Finland will need to keep their composure, which has unfortunately been missing of late.
Opponents: Level on points with Finland but with a less favourable goal difference Bosnia-Herzegovina head into this tie knowing a win puts them in pole position for a play-off place, with a game against Kazakhstan waiting for them on Tuesday night. A draw hands the advantage to Ukraine, defeat could see either side fail to qualify on the night. Six of the home side’s predicted starting eleven are carrying yellow cards and star player Edin Dzeko will miss this tie after being injured in Serie A action at the weekend. In the background there is also a stadium ban on flags given recent political unrest in the region, with international media expecting trouble, but local media playing down the severity of tensions. On the pitch defender Jusuf Gazibegovic and midfielder Elvis Saric, dropped out of the squad while usual starters Darko Todorovic (right back, RB Salzburg) and wiger Haris Duljevic (Hansa Rostock) did not make the squad. On the front foot, the hosts usually play a 3-5-2 with wing backs pushing high up into the final third. This makes the game feel particularly intense, but as Kanerva noted, if any team can play through that press, there will be plenty of opportunities in behind, while regular defensive partnership Dennis Hadzikadunic and Anel Ahmedhodzic both relatively inexperienced.
Previous: A brace from Teemu Pukki looked to be giving all three points to Finland before Stevanovic’s equaliser back in March 2021 when sides drew 2-2.
Referee: Michael Oliver, England – Premier League whistler that officiated in thr Euros earlier in the summer. Tends to be on the lenient side, memorably not sending off Jordan Pickford as he put Virgil van Dijk out for a year.
Oppo View: A tense affair, but a 2-0 home win.
Mark H: Well, a depleted side, tension high, Huuhkahat don’t have great form going into this, nobody is expexting a surprise, so dirty away win 0-1 nick it. Jensen hasn’t scored from the bench for a while, so he’s due.
Mark W: Hmm, as we discussed on our preview episode, both of these sides will feel there fate is in their own hands. Two wins for either side will see them finish in second place. My head says a 1-1 draw might be on the cards. My heart says a 2-1 win for the Huuhkajat, meaning we just need to beat France on Tuesday 😬:
Rich: A crunch match for both sides, both still maintaining hopes of reaching the play-offs. Finland have a stronger squad than the previous games and know they can’t afford to lose. Going to get numerous splinters on the fence I’m sitting on for a 1-1 draw
Keke: Huuhkajat must get something from this game to give the last match versus France any meaning. Our starting line up may not be as familiar as previous games but Väisänen has been playing well in Sweden and I am certainly a fan of Ivanov. Bosnia’s quality is obvious but I think Finland can handle them and I am going for a Huuhkajat win 1-2