France are hoping to end their international break on a positive note when they lock horns with Finland on Tuesday.
Following two back-to-back draws in their last two matches, France face a pressure test on Tuesday as they welcome Finland in Lyon. The defending champions of the world have been one of the most underwhelming performers in the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers so far, securing just nine points in five matches.
Although they are leading second-placed Finland by four points, the Scandinavians have two games in hand. It means a defeat on Tuesday could put them in a precarious position, having already dropped a total of four points in games against Ukraine and Bosnia & Herzegovina already during this international break.
Didier Deschamps’ men hadn’t performed well in the European Championship either, bowing out of the Round of 16 tie against Switzerland. So the defending world champions are certainly under a lot of pressure as they look to get back to winning ways.
Their midweek opponent Finland, though, will not make it easy. Having collected five points in three matches, they will be aware of the fact that a surprise three points against France could potentially put them in contention to finish at the top of the table, provided they can win their remaining matches.
Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of this crucial 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying encounter in Lyon this weekend.
Team News & Tactics
The French team has been hard hit with injuries during this international break, and with N’Golo Kante, Kylian Mbappe, Corentin Tolisso and Dayot Upamecano out, Deschamps may have to improvise once again.
The Frenchman is likely to recall some key players into the starting eleven, including Raphael Varane. His experience could be critical alongside Presnel Kimpembe, with Leo Dubois and Lucas Digne set to serve as full-backs, in the wake of the injury-related absence of Bayern Munich’s French full-back duo of Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez.
In midfield, Aurelien Tchouameni is competing with Jordan Veretout for a place at the base of Deschamps’ 4-3-3. We expect the latter to start alongside Adrien Rabiot and Paul Pogba due to his experience. He could play a vital role in France’s second line of press, hoping to create turnovers in key areas while Pogba looks to add that creative essence going forward.
Pogba isn’t the only creator for the hosts, though. Antoine Griezmann, who recently returned to Atletico Madrid on loan, is hoping to make an impression as he starts alongside Real Madrid superstar Karim Benzema and Bayern Munich winger Kingsley Coman.
Deschamps has no shortage of alternatives, though, including Anthony Martial, Thomas Lemar and Bayer Leverkusen frontman Moussa Diaby.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Lloris; Dubois, Varane, Kimpembe, Digne; Rabiot, Veretout, Pogba; Griezmann; Benzema, Coman
Finland coach Markku Kanerva has made quite a reputation for himself and has drastically improved the state of Finnish football with his pragmatic style of play that will see the hosts defending, for the most part, this midweek.
A classic 3-5-2 is certainly on the cards with the experienced duo of Joel Pohjanpalo and Teemu Pukki spearheading the line. Both are extremely clever centre forwards and can be very lethal in front of goal, which means Finland’s focus will be to find spaces in between the French backline.
The return of Glen Kamara from suspension will certainly be a boost. But Finland’s main source of creativity comes from their wide wingbacks in Jere Uronen and Nikolai Alho, although France will also need to be careful of exciting attacker Robert Taylor.
Defensively, Alho is likely to operate deeper to offer aid to the three main centre-backs in Leo Vaisanen, Paulus Arajuuri, and Daniel O’Shaughnessy as they look to protect captain Lukas Hradecky in goal.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Hradecky; Vaisanen, Arajuuri, O’Shaughnessey; Alho, Valakari, Kamara, Taylor, Uronen; Pukki, Pohjanpalo
- These two sides have met a total of nine teams before, at the international stage, with France dominating the tie with eight wins.
- Finland have only won once against France, which came in the two side’s most recent meeting back in November 2020 friendly.
- Didier Deschamps has faced Finland thrice as a coach, winning twice while losing just once. His counter-part Markku Kanerva has met Les Bleus just once, which was the victory back in November.
Player to Watch
After struggling so far in this international break, Antoine Griezmann is certainly due a big game, having endured a stagnant spell for both club and country since his move to Barcelona. However, he is now back at Atletico Madrid and will be aware of the fact that a solid performance against Finland could be an ideal way to re-introduce himself to the Atleti fans.
Even for the French national team, the absence of multiple star players puts the onus on Griezmann to emerge as the main man in attack for Les Bleus. His experience and pedigree at the highest level of football could indeed go a long way in helping his team secure a much-needed victory in this crunch encounter.
France 1-0 Finland
This might be yet another difficult game for France. They have lacked ideas in the last couple of matches and the squad simply isn’t there, especially with the majority of star players out injured. Finland, in contrast, are known for their coherent setup under Kanerva and could build a strong defensive wall to stop Les Bleus this midweek.
However, the quality in the French attack might just be enough to help them secure a narrow victory, especially if they can remain defensively solid and prevent any goalscoring chances for either Pukki or Pohjanpalo.