Finland and Slovenia will resume their respective bids for Euro 2024 qualification when they lock horns at the Helsinki Olympic Stadium on Friday evening.
Boasting a 100% record after two matches, Slovenia find themselves at the summit of Group H – three points clear of Finland, Denmark, Kazakhstan and Northern Ireland.
It is fair to say that Finland’s qualifying campaign did not get off to the best of starts as the Eagle-Owls suffered a 3-1 defeat to Denmark back in March, with highly-rated Atalanta youngster Rasmus Hojlund netting a hat-trick.
However, Markku Kanerva’s men bounced back three days later, claiming a 1-0 victory over Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, with Benjamin Kallman scoring the decisive goal midway through the first half.
That victory ended a five-game winless run for Finland, who recorded two draws and two losses in four friendlies before falling to Denmark, drawing with North Macedonia and Norway in November before losing to Sweden and Estonia in January.
When you look at the bigger picture, the Nordic outfit have only managed to win three of their previous 15 matches across all competitions, scoring more than one goal on just three occasions during that period.
Finland’s first-ever appearance in a major tournament came two years ago at Euro 2020, and the Eagle-Owls will be determined to make it back to the biggest stage in European international football.
On the flip side, Slovenia could barely have wished for a better start to their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign, as they head into the third round of fixtures with a three-point lead over the four teams below, and a six-point lead over minnows San Marino.
After coming from behind to secure a deserved 2-1 victory over Kazakhstan, Matjaz Kek’s men claimed a comfortable 2-0 win against San Marino, racking up 77% possession and 25 shots while limiting the visitors to a solitary attempt.
Thanks to friendly victories over Romania and Montenegro back in November, the Slovenians carry a four-game winning streak to Helsinki, having scored two goals on three occasions during that sequence.
Better still, Slovenia have avoided defeat in each of their last eight matches across all competitions, finishing their Nations League campaign with a four-game unbeaten run before sealing four successive victories.
Having lost only two of their previous 14 outings – picking up six wins and six draws along the way – Slovenia will be confident of notching another positive result against Finland.
Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky will earn his 84th international cap when he lines up between the sticks for Finland on Friday.
At the opposite end of the pitch, Norwich City striker Teemu Pukki will aim to enhance his international record of 37 goals in 110 appearances, with Benjamin Kallman expected to partner Pukki in attack.
Rangers’ Glen Kamara and Djurgardens IF’s Rasmus Schuller look set to operate in Finland’s engine room, while Richard Jensen and Nikolai Alho should occupy the full-back roles for the hosts.
As for the visitors, RB Leipzig-bound Benjamin Sesko will start in attack as the exciting 20-year-old aims to build on his record of six goals in 19 games for his country.
With Atletico Madrid stopper Jan Oblak continuing to recover from injury, Vid Belec is expected to start in goal for Slovenia, while Jaka Bijol and David Brekalo will likely begin at centre-back.
Finland possible starting lineup:
Hradecky; Jensen, Ivanov, Soiri, Alho; Taylor, Schuller, Kamara, Suhonen; Kallman, Pukki
Slovenia possible starting lineup:
Belec; Stojanovic, Brekalo, Bijol, Karnicnik; Zajc, Cerin, Lovric, Verbic; Vipotnik, Sesko