Italy will be aiming to kickstart their campaign to qualify for the UEFA Euro 2020 when they host Finland at Stadio Friuli in a Group J tie on Saturday.
The first week of the first international break of 2019 is set to end, but the games keep on coming thick and fast. As always, the major talking point within Europe will be the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers, with the latest heavyweights in action being Italy, when they welcome Finland to the Dacia Arena in their Group J opener on Saturday.
The last couple of years have proven to be a reality check for Italy, who missed out on the chance to make it to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. But, having been rather impressive at the 2016 Euro while also showing a lot of resilience in the UEFA Nations League, the Azurri will now hope to make short work of their qualification campaign for the 2020 edition.
Finland, on the other hand, have no prior record at any edition of the UEFA European Championships, having failed to qualify for any of the previous iterations of the competition. But, Markku Kanerva’s men will be brimming with confidence after securing promotion to the UEFA Nations League B, topping Group 2 of League C, which gives them a place in the playoff, should they fail to qualify automatically.
Italy last locked horns with Finland nearly three years ago in Verona, easing to a 2-0 win courtesy of goals from Antonio Candreva and Daniele de Rossi. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier.
Team News & Tactics
Roberto Mancini has named quite a sizeable squad for the latest round of fixtures, having picked as many as 29 players for the two UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers that his side will play. Naturally, there aren’t many notable absentees from the squad, apart from Mario Balotelli and Lorenzo Insigne, with the latter missing out due to injury.
On the contrary, there are a number of call-ups that have caught the attention for one reason or another. The major recall is that of Fabio Quagliarella, who has been in incredible for this season – the veteran striker is the Serie A top scorer.
In addition to Quagliarella, the likes of Nicolo Zaniolo, Leonardo Pavoletti, Armando Izzo and Gianluca Mancini are all in line to make their senior Italy debuts, with Zaniolo, in particular, having a reasonable chance to make his maiden senior international appearance.
As for the team selection for the game against Finland, most of the players pick themselves, seeing as Mancini will hope to name his strongest possible side to ensure Italy start on a winning note. With that in mind, the likes of Gianluigi Donnarumma, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Marco Verratti and Jorginho become certain starters.
Leonardo Spinazzola has been in great form lately, having impressed in Juventus’ comeback win over Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League. But, the 25-year-old is likely to beaten by Cristiano Biraghi for the left-back slot, while Alessandro Florenzi ought to line up on the opposite flank.
Alessio Romagnoli too, unluckily miss out, owing to the stalwarts – Chiellini and Bonucci – ahead of him. In midfield, Jorginho and Verratti ought to be accompanied by Nicolo Barella, while Federico Chiesa and Federico Bernardeschi should be the two wingers. Quagliarella and Ciro Immobile will battle it out to lead the line for Italy, with the former likely to get the nod due to his splendid form.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Florenzi, Bonucci, Chiellini, Biraghi; Barella, Jorginho, Verratti; Chiesa, Quagliarella, Bernardeschi
Finland have already been in action twice in 2019 and after being beaten in back-to-back matches by Estonia and Sweden, Markku Kanerva has made a raft of changes to his squad. But, the major absentee for the visitors will be left-back Jere Uronen, who has withdrawn his name from the squad due to injury.
In place of the 24-year-old, Tromso full-back Juha Pirinen is likely to start on the left side of the Finnish defence on Saturday. On the opposite flank, first-choice right-back Albin Granlund is expected to retain his place, with the two full-backs flanking experienced central defenders Joona Toivio and Paulus Arajuuri.
The defensive line will provide cover to Lukas Hradecky. The Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper, who is widely regarded as one of the best shot stoppers in Bundesliga, will have a busy game to look forward to, and his performance will hold the key for Finland against Italy.
In midfield, captain Tim Sparv will hope to lead by example, sitting in the middle of the park, where he will be looking to keep a check on Marco Verratti’s output. His central midfield partner, Rasmus Schuller will likely be tasked with pressing Jorginho aggressively so as to deny him the space to pull the strings, which will likely curb Italy’s creative output considerably.
Out wide, Kasper Hamalainen and Pyry Soiri will aim to drive Finland forward on the transitions. Off the ball, the duo will aim to veer infield, so as to create overloads and congest the passing lanes. Upfront, the onus will be on Teemu Pukki to be clinical in the few chances that come his way.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Hradecky; Granlund, Toivio, Arajuuri, Pirinen; Hamalainen, Schuller, Sparv, Soiri; Pukki, Lappalainen
- Italy have a formidable head-to-head record against Finland, having failed to win just once in 12 meetings between the two sides (D1) – a 0-0 draw back in 1975.
- The last 12 matches featuring Finland have seen a clear winner (W8 L4). In 11 of these fixtures, the victor has not managed to find the back of the net more than twice.
- Roberto Mancini has a very uninspiring record in his short stint at the Italy head coach, having managed to win just 3 of the 9 matches he has overseen (D4 L2).
- But, Italy’s recent record in UEFA Euro Qualifiers is exemplary, with the Azurri going unbeaten in each of their last two qualifying campaigns (W15 D5).
- Fabio Quagliarella is currently the top scorer in Serie A, having netted an astounding 21 goals already in the league this season.
Player to Watch
Zlatan Ibrahimovic once equated himself with fine wine, having exclaimed that he was getting better with age. But, there is one player who can even put Ibrahimovic’s records in recent years to shame, with Fabio Quagliarella consistently being among the top scorers in Serie A.
This term, the 36-year-old has gone a step ahead, with 21 goals in the league so far putting him in the lead to end the campaign as the Capocannoniere. And so, as he looks set to make his first appearance for Italy since 2010, the veteran striker appears to be the team’s best hope to make it through from the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers unscathed.
Now is the chance for Quagliarella to cement his legacy and if he manages to lead the Italian attack with aplomb, he might have one last chance to appear on the big stage with the national side.
Italy 2-0 Finland
Saturday’s UEFA Euro 2020 Group J qualifier in Udine pits two sides that have been known to be rather frugal in front of goal in recent memory. But, with Italy playing at home, we can’t help but give them the edge for the curtain raiser of the qualifying campaign against Finland.
The likes of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are in fine form, and are unlikely to let much past them on the night. On the other end, Lukas Hradecky should stand guard with elan, but the barrage of attacking moves should see him wilt.
In the end, we reckon Italy will have more than enough quality to get past Finland on the night. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-0 win for Italy to kick off their qualifying campaign on a positive note. But, with Markku Kanerva’s men already having a playoff place secured, the loss might not hurt as much to the visitors.