Finland v Belgium: Red Devils seek end to winless run in rivalry with shot-shy Finns

By Sports Desk June 20, 2021

Belgium will aim to end a seven-match winless run in their rivalry with Finland when the sides meet in Monday's Euro 2020 Group B clash at Saint Petersburg Stadium.

The Red Devils have defeated Russia 3-0 and Denmark 2-1 in their opening two games and are assured of a place in the knockout stages.

However, Roberto Martinez's side may require a point to secure top spot and a meeting with one of the best third-placed sides in the last 16.

Belgium do not have the best of records against Finland, drawing three and losing four of the last seven meetings since their last win in this fixture 53 years ago.

The world's top-ranked side head into this latest encounter as heavy favourites, though, and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is targeting top spot.

"It's prestigious to win the group, so that is something we are definitely going for," Courtois said.

"Sure, the next phase might actually be easier if you're not the group winner, but in football there can always be surprises.

"At the World Cup we seemed to have a tougher time against Japan than against Brazil. You can't try to calculate these things, you just always have to play to win."

Finland beat Denmark 1-0 in their opener – a game overshadowed by the cardiac arrest suffered by Christian Eriksen – before falling to defeat by the same scoreline to Russia.

The Eagle Owls would advance with a win against Belgium, or a draw if Russia lose to Denmark, otherwise they are relying on being one of the best-ranked third-placed sides.

They have mustered just two shots on target across their first two matches, with no team previously managing fewer than four across their three group games in the competition since records began in 1980.

"We created more against Russia, but the final pass was still not ideal," head coach Markku Kanerva said. "We need to improve on that.

"The players are in good spirits and we will do everything to get something out of the game. We all know Belgium's quality and are aware that we are facing a really tough task."

 

 


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Finland – Joel Pohjanpalo

Bayer Leverkusen striker Pohjanpalo wrote his name in Finland folklore by scoring his country's first – and so far only – goal at a major tournament with his header against Denmark.

He had another goal cruelly ruled out for offside against Russia and is accountable for 42 per cent of his side's shots at Euro 2020 so far (5/12), with no other Finland player recording more than two attempts.

Kanerva could do with others helping out in attack, such as a not-fully-fit Teemu Pukki, but Finland's hopes of progression seemingly weigh largely on the shoulders of Pohjanpalo on the basis of the last two games.

Belgium – Eden Hazard

Martinez has confirmed that Kevin De Bruyne and Hazard, who both assisted from the bench against Denmark, will start this concluding group game as they continue to work their way back to full fitness.

Hazard has made five assists in seven appearances for Belgium at the European Championship at an average of one every 98 minutes, which is the best rate of any player to have made five appearances in the competition since 1980, the point from which such records are available.

The Real Madrid forward may have endured a frustrating time of things during his two seasons with Real Madrid, but he showed during his cameo appearance in Copenhagen that he still has plenty to offer in this talented Belgium side.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– None of the last five encounters between Finland and Belgium have produced more than two goals.

– Belgium have won their final group-stage game in each of their last four major tournament appearances (Euros and World Cup), since losing 2-0 against Turkey at Euro 2000.

– Each of Finland's two matches at Euro 2020 has ended 1-0. The only team to have three consecutive matches ending 1-0 in the same European Championship tournament were Greece at Euro 2004, who won the trophy that year.

– Belgium will be looking to win 100 per cent of their group games for the second consecutive major tournament (3/3 at the 2018 World Cup), while it would be the first time they have won all of their group-stage games in a single edition of the Euros.

– After winning four consecutive matches in October and November 2020, Finland have won just one of their last eight games in all competitions (D2 L5), failing to find the net in three of their last four games.

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