Finland vs Northern Ireland recommended bets
Finland vs Northern Ireland match preview
This qualification campaign has been, quite frankly, absolutely miserable for Northern Ireland.
So far, the Green and White Army have just six points on the board, beating San Marino home and away, but losing all six matches against the teams above them.
Last month, Michael O’Neill’s team did enjoy a 3-0 victory over San Marino at Windsor Park, but were then brought back down to earth three days later, defeated 1-0 by Slovenia in Belfast.
Thus, far from dreaming of Euro 2024 qualification, Northern Ireland supporters are concerned about being at the next Euros, which they’ll co-host, although Casement Park remains both controversial and up in the air.
Overall, the Green and White Army have won only five of their last 34 competitive internationals, and are currently on course for their lowest points tally in a campaign since Euro 2004 qualifying.
Finland meantime made their major tournament debut at Euro 2020, successful at the 33rd attempt, and are still in with a shout of being in Germany next summer.
Last time out, Markku Kanerva’s team saw their hopes of a top two finish in Group H come to an end, beaten 2-1 by Kazakhstan in Helsinki, despite taking the lead through Robert Taylor’s free-kick.
This made it three successive defeats, their worst sequence in competitive games for over six years.
The Eagle-owls will though get a second opportunity in March’s play-offs.
At the moment, Finland will travel to Bosnia & Herzegovina in the semi-finals, before, potentially, facing Israel, Ukraine or Iceland in the final, although this is subject to change and Thursday’s draw.
Nevertheless, with possibly two huge ties to come next year, they’ll be desperate to end 2023 with back-to-back wins, also traveling to Serravalle on Monday.
Northern Ireland were unbeaten in four meetings with Finland, prior to the Eagle-owls 1-0 victory in Belfast in March, with a home victory expected by those in attendance at Helsingin Olympiastadion.
Finland team news
Teemu Pukki is usually a reliable source of goals for Markku Kanerva’s team, although the Minnesota United striker has scored only once in this campaign, on target in the demolition of San Marino.
So, Joel Pohjanpalo has been leading the line in recent matches, although they could be deployed as a front two here.
Captain Lukáš Hrádecký will win his 90th cap in goal, only six Finnish men have more, while Oliver Antman, who’s scored five goals in just eight caps, is out injured.
Predicted XI (4-4-2): Hrádecký; Alho, Jensen, Ivanov, Uronen; Kamara, Taylor, Kairinen, Lod; Pukki, Pohjanpalo.
Northern Ireland team news
Michael O’Neill brings with him a depleted squad, which is the last thing he needs.
First-choice goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell, star centre-back Jonny Evans as well as midfielders Ali McCann and Gavin Whyte are all injured.
Meanwhile, Shea Charles is suspended, having been sent off during the defeat to Slovenia.
Thus, in goal, after making his competitive international debut last month, Conor Hazard will be donning the gloves; he won a Veikkausliiga league title during a loan spell with HJK last year.
Of the side that drew 1-1 when Northern Ireland last visited Helsinki in 2015, a result that secured top spot in that qualification group, how times have changed, only Paddy McNair and Josh Magennis are still in the squad.
Four uncapped players are hoping to make their debuts this week, including winger Ross McCausland, who’s been very impressive in brief cameos for Rangers recently.
Predicted XI (4-5-1): Hazard; Hume, Ballard, Toal, Lewis; McNair, Saville, Price, Thompson, Smyth, McMenamin; Magennis.