Finland v Russia | Wednesday 16th June 2021, 14:00 | BBC One
Whilst Finland opened their Euro 2020 campaign with an excellent 1-0 win over Denmark, I think we can all agree that they won’t have wanted to win in those kind of circumstances.
We all wish Christian Eriksen the very best in his recovery. It would have been a bit of a traumatic experience for some of the Finnish players as well, so it remains to be seen how they’ll be heading into this clash with Russia, who suffered a heavy 3-0 loss against fancied Belgium.
It would probably be also fair to say that Finland took advantage of the Danes in that much-delayed second half on Saturday. Finland were largely up against up for practically all of the first half, and Denmark clearly had their minds elsewhere despite agreeing to play on.
As mentioned, Finland made the most of that opportunity, but they’ll now face a sterner challenge from a hurting Russia, who will again play this contest on Russian soil in the form of the Gazprom Arena.
All is not lose for Russia though of course, especially as third-place could well be enough to see them get out the group. They won’t be thinking like that just yet however, and beating Finland here would likely set up a battle for second spot, assuming Belgium finish in first as expected.
It is fair to say neither of these teams entered the tournament in anything like meaningful form, both in their warm-up friendlies and competitive matches prior to that. Whilst Finland beat Denmark, I’m not reading anything into that freak game. In a way, we could say the same about Russia, especially as Belgium are in the top bracket of teams appearing at Euro 2020.
After back-to-back wins in Nations League action last September, Russia have since followed that up with three wins in 12, and those victories came against Slovenia, Bulgaria and Malta, none of which are at Euro 2020. They’re just lacking a bit of momentum right now, and that is tough to wrestle back mid-tournament. However, if you are to do so, then having a crowd behind you always helps.
As mentioned, I’m not really taking into account Finland’s win the other day. Sure, it was good for their prospects, but deep down I don’t think they’ll necessarily be feeling on Cloud 9 or anything like that, which is what they would have felt like had their won without the Eriksen situation. They were winless in six beforehand, including a deserving home loss to Estonia, albeit in a friendly.
I will judge them mainly on their first-half showing against Denmark, where they looked quite rattled at times. They won’t have anything to fear from Russia as such, but they’ll show them respect, and after winning their opener the pressure is off them to a degree, whereas almost all of it is on Russia.
One worry for Russia is getting a supply into striker Artem Dzyuba. With Finland playing three physical centre backs, the maths alone suggests the forward may not necessarily get things all his own way. Denmark ultimately struggled to break this barrier down last Saturday, even with Eriksen pulling the strings, so this should be a nicely poised game.
Russia are odds-on to win the game. It is understandable given this is essentially a home fixture for them, and you’d think they’ll be eager to bounce back after losing to Belgium in that fashion. It is something of a new-look Russia these days, mainly due to the lack of Igor Akinfeev between the sticks. The experienced Anton Shunin looked very shaky between the sticks last time out, and Finland may look to get balls into the box to really test him out.
This is a tough game to really come to a concrete solution for, so I’m going to chicken-out slightly and avoid any markets around the score. There should be lots on the line however, so I’m expecting both teams to really put in a shift, and that could lead to a few introductions to the referee’s notebook.
Glen Kamara will be hoping to avoid that but I’d still expect another typically combative performance from him. Over 1.5 Tackles from the Rangers man is priced at 11/8 (Bet365), and that paid off in their opening group game. Finland need to work tirelessly hard out of possession, and his impact is huge in that regard. For all he does a big job for them in possession, out of it is just as important.
One more I fancy to get a card is Jere Uronen, who is priced 10/3 (Bet365) to do so. You can expect Russia to attack down their right side and get full back Mario Fernandes on the ball in advanced areas down the flank. This inevitably will put some pressure upon Uronen, who should again occupy the left wing back slot.
With Finland playing a 5-3-2, their wing backs can potentially get exposed, and I tip the Genk man to maybe produce one tackle too many for the referee’s liking.