Finland’s U21 team has a chance of achieving what would be the best achievement in Finnish football so far as they play Austria twice. The winner of the tie will qualify for the U21 European Championships to be held in Sweden next year.
Markku Kanerva is unlikely to change his team compared to the group stage of the qualification. Petri Viljanen of FC Haka was recalled following an injury and FC Inter’s Timo Furuholm is a new call-up. Both are unlikely to be on the starting eleven, however. Berat Sadik is missing because he was called up to the senior squad.
Anssi Jaakkola, AC Siena (7 / 0)
Tomi Maanoja, AIK (8 / 0)
Jukka Raitala, HJK 12 / 0)
Joni Aho, FC Inter (7 / 0)
Jonas Portin, FF Jaro (14 / 0)
Ville Jalasto, FC Honka (14 / 1)
Petri Viljanen, FC Haka (2 / 0)
Tuomo Turunen, FC Honka (12 / 1)
MIDFIELDERS AND ATTACKERS:
Tim Sparv, Halmstads BK (13 / 4)
Mehmet Hetemaj, Panionios NFC (11 / 2)
Pyry Kärkkäinen, FC Lahti (10 / 0)
Juha Hakola, FC Flora (5 / 0)
Kasper Hämäläinen, TPS (14 / 1)
Tomi Petrescu, Tampere United (7 / 2)
Mika Ojala, FC Inter (7 / 1)
Jarno Parikka, HJK (14 / 2)
Aleksandr Kokko, FC Honka (2 / 0)
Perparim Hetemaj, AEK Athens (10 / 2)
Timo Furuholm, FC Inter (0 / 0)
Austria are missing some key players, such as Erwin Hoffer (Rapid Wien) and senior team players Martin Harnik (Werder Bremen), Christian Fuchs (Bochum) and Ronald Gercaliu (Austria Wien).
Finland will face a tough challenge, as Austria won their qualification group with nine points to spare and became the first team to confirm their play-off spot. Finland are in great form, however, and the players have played with each other enough to know how they should play.
The first game will be played in Pasching, Austria on Friday at 6 PM local time. The decisive game will take place in Turku on Tuesday, starting at 7 PM Finnish time.
At the same time, Stuart Baxter’s national team is preparing for Saturday’s game against Azerbaijan in Helsinki and next Wednesday’s encounter with Russia in Moscow.
Naturally, the Azerbaijan game is all about the win. Everyone remembers the defeat Finland succumbed to in Baku when qualifying for the 2008 European Championships. It wasn’t clear back then, but the extra three points would have seen Finland qualify. Hopefully, the lesson is learned and Finland won’t drop points when they should win – that applies not only to the Azerbaijan games, but also to the upcoming fixtures against Wales and Liechenstein.
The situation is very different when the team takes on Russia on Wednesday. Having finished third in the European Championships, Russia are clear favourites. However, that may suit Finland, as it’s been five years since Finland lost to a top-class team in a competitive game. If Finland can produce the kind of well-disciplined and at times attacking display we saw against Germany, they have a chance of getting something from the game.
The following players have been selected:
Jussi Jääskeläinen, Bolton Wanderers
Otto Fredrikson, LIlleström SK
Veli Lampi, FC Zürich
Petri Pasanen, Werder Bremen
Toni Kuivasto, Djurgårdens IF
Sami Hyypiä, Liverpool FC
Hannu Tihinen, FC Zürich
Niklas Moisander, AZ Alkmaar
Toni Kallio, Fulham FC
Joonas Kolkka, NAC Breda
Markus Heikkinen, Rapid Wien
Teemu Tainio, Sunderland AFC
Roman Eremenko, Dynamo Kiev
Mika Väyrynen, SC Heerenveen
Jari Litmanen, FC Lahti
Daniel Sjölund, Djurgårdens IF
Roni Porokara, Örebro SK
Mikael Forssell, Hannover 96
Berat Sadik, DSC Arminia Bielefeld
Paulus Roiha, HJK
Antti Pohja, Tampere United
Needless to say, all eyes are on Mikael Forssell. Jonatan Johansson, a striker with clinical finishing, is missing, and the possible replacements can’t quite match his standards. Berat Sadik and Paulus Roiha are not national team regulars, and Antti Pohja is not Johansson’s calibre.
Once again, Alexei Eremenko jr. was left out in the cold. Baxter is not pleased at all with Eremenko jr’s efforts as far as the national team is concerned, and he has not played very much in Saturn either. Baxter has closed the issue for now, saying Eremenko jr is welcome to join the team when he gets his act together and plays regularly for his club.