Match Preview: Finland vs Italy

Group J surprise Finland will host Italy in what could be a vital game for their UEFA EURO qualifying campaign.

Finland is one of the most pleasant surprises of the European Qualifiers, having collected 12 points from their five games so far.

The Eagle-owls started out with a 2-0 defeat against their next opponents – Italy, but won each one of the next four qualifying encounters placing themselves in second, three points behind the Azzurri.

Roberto Mancini’s boys have a perfect record with five wins out of five games. They travel to North Europe on the wings of a 3-1 away win in Armenia last Thursday.

The game is scheduled for 20:45 on Sunday night, while the venue is the Ratina Stadium in Tampere.

Team news

All eyes will be on Premier League sensation Teemu Pukki, who has scored five goals in four games in top-flight English football this season and in each of his last three appearances for the national team.

The Finnish side has only two players in the squad that play in the domestic league – Niko Markkula (Inter Turku) and Petteri Forsell (HJK).

Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini is unavailable for Italy, alongside Mattia de Sciglio, Bryan Cristante and Lorenzo Insigne.

Lorenzo Pellegrini scored his debut goal at the international stage against Armenia back on Thursday, which puts him in line to replace Marco Verratti in the first-team, who is suspended for the fixture in Tampere.

Talk to the press

Italy boss Roberto Mancini was not happy with his team’s performance in Armenia a few days ago.

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“I don’t know if it was our worst performance. I said it would be difficult, because easy games no longer exist,” the Coach told Rai Sport.

“We didn’t start well, conceded a goal, but could’ve turned it around before half-time. In a way, the red card penalised us, as Armenia just focused on defending with 10 men and didn’t allow any spaces. If they’d had 11, they would’ve pushed forward more.

“People think we coaches just say these things to prepare their players, but the truth is Armenia were physically superior today and are mid-way through their seasons.

“We did what we needed to, we need to do more, but we’re working on it. Bernardeschi isn’t at 100 percent, Chiesa had a difficult summer, but they try to give their all.

“We ran a few risks on the counter in the second half, but that has to be our mentality, to always go on the attack.”

Stats

Finland is on a winning streak of four games in a row, while Italy has won their last six matches in all competitions. One of the streaks will come to an end on Sunday evening.

The Eagle-owls’ last home defeat in a competitive fixture came in June 2017. They’ve played seven games since then, registering six wins and a draw.

Italy has won the three points in each of their four visits to Finland. Their only defeat to this opponent came in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The Azzurri failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia last summer. They have registered six wins, two draws and only one defeat in their competitive games since then.

Finland has never played at a major football competition. A win against Italy tomorrow evening would see them come really close to their first-ever appearance in the European Championship.

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