Tournament debutants Finland are the only team with a 100 per cent record in European Championship finals matches after their 1-0 success over Denmark last Saturday and they will be looking to seal a round of 16 berth when taking on Russia in Saint Petersburg.
The Finns overcame a Denmark team who were understandably distracted by the ordeal of their star player Christian Eriksen, who suffered a cardiac arrest before he was rescued by the quick thinking of team-mates and medical professionals.
But they have got themselves into a great position and have a three-point head-start over Russia, who lost 3-0 at home to Belgium in their opening game.
Russian Woes Could Continue
Russia were inspired by home advantage at the 2018 World Cup but they struggled to lay a glove on Belgium last weekend and may struggle to justify
4/6 favouritism against the Finns.
There appears to be a lack of talent coming through the Russian system with head coach Stanislav Cherchesov selecting ten players aged 30 or over for his 26-man squad.
And the intensity of the opening game was simply too much for 37-year-old veteran Yuri Zhirkov, who hobbled off with a suspected calf injury just before half-time.
Russia played with more purpose in the second half but their play lacked variety and there was an over-reliance on feeding high balls into towering centre-forward Artem Dzyuba, who was often an isolated figure.
Getting better support up to Dzyuba will be crucial to Cherchesov’s plans of beating the Finns but a direct approach could play into the hands of the opposition, who will probably persist with a deep-lying five-man rearguard.
The Scandanavian outfit do not create lots of chances but one goal was enough to see off the Danes and a single strike could set up a winning wager for Finland or tie double chance backers at
Pukki Party About to Get Started
Joel Pohjanpalo was the Finland hero in Copenhagen when his 60th-minute header squirmed through the hands of Kasper Schmeichel but his strike-partner, Teemu Pukki, could be the match-winner against Russia.
Pukki is probably still working his way back to full match fitness after an ankle injury sustained towards the end of Norwich’s title-winning Championship campaign.
But he showed some nice touches and intelligent movement against the Danes and his international scoring record – 30 goals in 92 appearances – marks him down as the man to fear.
The 31-year-old helped himself to ten goals in qualifying and is a
17/4 shot to land the opening blow against Russia.
Goal Glut Unlikely for Russia
Russia will have earmarked the Finland game as their best chance of getting a victory but they could be let down by lack of quality in the final third.
Attacking midfielders Aleksandr Golovin and Aleksei Miranchuk are decent technicians with an eye for the defence-splitting pass but there is a lack of movement and pace ahead of them.
It could take patience and precision to unlock a Finland side who have chalked up clean sheets in four of their last eight competitive internationals but Russia will be facing a determined, well-organised opponent and may struggle to find the breakthrough.
They have failed to score more than once in each of their last six European Championship finals matches and are
5/6 to score fewer than two goals against Markku Kanerva’s men.
*All odds correct at time of writing.