Helsinki Stadium, Finland
6th September, 19:30 BST
Finland host World and European champions Spain at the Helsinki stadium in their next World Cup qualifier. Their last visit to this stadium back in 2007 for a friendly ended in a goalless stalemate. But this is a very different Spanish side now and they have been an unstoppable juggernaut on the International stage for the past three to four years.
Finland are currently third in the points table, five points behind table toppers Spain. Although mathematically they are still with a chance to catch France, but it seems highly unlikely that they will make it through to the next World Cup in Brazil. They are coming into this match on the back of a 2-0 victory over Slovenia in a friendly back in August. Goals from Niklas Moisander and Kasper Hamalainen at either side of the half, gave them a comfortable victory at home. In fact Mixu Paatelainen will be happy more pleased about the defensive performance of the side in that match – Finland have managed to keep only one clean sheet in their five World Cup qualifiers so far.
Finland needed a victory against Belarus in their last World Cup qualifier, played in June, but they only managed to grab a draw in that game. Teemu Pukki opened gave them the lead in the first half of the match, but they conceded a late equalizer as Dmitry Verkhovtsov levelled the score for the home side. That match was probably their easiest away fixture and a better performance was expected of the team which drew with Spain in Madrid.
Paatelainen isn’t expected to make too many changes to the starting eleven that won against Slovenia, but there is a tactical change on the cards. In their last qualifier against Belarus, Finland used the 4-1-4-1 formation, but there is a possibility of Paatelainen changing to a more defensive minded 4-3-2-1 or 4-4-2 formation. In their last match against Spain, they defended brilliantly and frustrated the World Champions in Madrid using the same 4-4-2 formation. They sat deep and the midfielders formed a bank of four in front of the defence. But reports suggest he will use a much narrow narrow 4-2-3-1 formation, with Schuller, Tainio and Ring sitting in front of the defence, with Riski and Eremenko pressing higher up the pitch. These two will look to deny Busquets and Xavi any time or space on the ball, while Pukki will lead the line up front.
Spain are leading the table by one point, but France are on their heels. Although it looks unlikely that either of Finland or Georgia will challenge for the second spot, but if Spain slip up and France overtake them at the top, then they might have to go through the anguish of participating in a play-off. Spain are coming into this match on the back of a 2-0 victory over Ecuador, where Negredo and Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla scored on either side of the halftime. It was a comfortable win on all accords, although nothing less is expected of this Spanish side.
In their last World Cup qualifier back in March, Spain travelled to Stade de France for the all-important clash against France. It was a must win game for Spain as they were trailing their opponent in the points table. It was a close match, one which was decided by Pedro’s goal in the second half. It was a crucial win for Vicente del Bosque’s side, who saw his team surprisingly drop points against Belarus in the previous match.
Del Bosque is expected to make five changes to the side which was fielded against Ecuador last month. Xavi, Busquets, Isco, David Villa and Pedro will return to the starting eleven, having missed out in the last game. Iker Casillas, who has been in news for being benched at Real Madrid, will once again resume his role in between the post. Spain will play in their favoured 4-3-3 formation with Inesta and Pedro supporting Villa upfront. Busquets will drop deep and protect the back four, especially when Sergio Ramos makes his traditional forward runs from the back. Xavi will dictate the play from the middle, while Isco and Iniesta will provide the spark. The duo is expected to exploit the channels and will be the key to break down an organised Finland defence. Most of Spain’s attack is expected to arrive down the left, with Alba joining in attack, this will of course open up space on the other side for Pedro and Villa to exploit. Ramos has stated that they need to concentrate defensively for the whole 90 minutes as Finland has shown in the previous fixture that they can score goals on the break. Spain will dominate possession as usual, but it is what they do with the possession that matters.
Finland (4-3-2-1) – Maenpaa (GK); Arkivuo, Moisander, Pasanen, Lampi; Ring, Tainio, Schuller; Eremenko, Riski; Pukki
Spain (4-3-3) – Casillas (GK); Arbeloa, Ramos, Albiol, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Isco; Pedro, Villa, Iniesta
Players to watch-out for
Roman Eremenko (Finland); Isco (Spain)
Finland 0-2 Spain
Blast from the past