Ireland take on Finland in Helsinki this evening. At five o’clock Irish time the boys in green will do battle with the Scandinavians who put them to the sword last month. Where will the key battles/talking points be?
Can Ireland field a team?
Rumour has it that the game will be 13-aside after Ireland have had a tumultuous week! No, the traditional 11 will do. After losing John Egan, Callum Robinson, Callum O’Dowda, Alan Browne and William Derrickson after they were all deemed close contacts of a positive Covid case, McCarthy and McGoldrick to injury and McClean to a red card against the Welsh, Kenny acted swiftly. Seanie Maguire, Daryl Horgan and Adam Idah were joined by Dara O’Shea (West Brom), Jason Knight (Derby), Ryan Manning (QPR) and Ronan Curtis (Portsmouth) for the Finland clash. A lot of names that ye mightn’t know off hand but most players are playing regularly with their clubs in England and abroad.
So, yes, Ireland can field a team and selection headaches (McClean) might be blessings in disguise. Connolly should slot in on the left with Long up front and Brady on the other side. The midfield trio of Hendrick, Hourihane and Molumby should remain unchanged. Kevin Long went off injured in the first half against Wales after a Keifar Moore elbow turned his left eye into a snooker ball. Matt Doherty shifted in to partner Duffy in centre-back, putting in a fine performance while doing so. Christie, who came on to cover right-back, played well and should expect to start this evening.
Daryl Horgan does have a case to start on the right hand side of the attacking arrow but Irish managers love Robbie Brady so I would expect him to come on in the second half again. The Irish bench is full of youth and speed which could come in handy as tired legs are a certainty after three games in seven days.
Will We Score?
Get that Shane Long miss out of your head! It was horrible and we all experienced it but it is over now. Let’s move on.
Shane Long is lacking confidence. That is plain to see. He also may be exasperated with the lack of touches he is getting on the ball. Ireland are playing the ball around the back for the first time in a long time, preferring to keep possession rather than the usual hoof up front. In the latter style Long profited immensely. Who can forget his famous goal against the Germans? That is not how Kenny plays. While the pundits on television don’t seem sold on the new manager’s system, most fans are happier with what they are seeing. Long, who will probably start this evening, will need to keep making those runs. One will surely pay off.
Aaron Connolly is a semi-regular scorer for Brighton in the Premier League. He scored a curler against Newcastle last month that was pure perfection. He will want to break his international duck against the Finnish.
The fact is Ireland need a consistent goalscorer. Stats shown on Virgin Media Two last night before the Germany v. Switzerland game painted an ominous picture. Ireland’s leading goalscorer at the moment is Shane Long, who hasn’t scored in four years. Stats can add positives to a squad where you never thought you would find any but in this case they quench any hope of a goal from the front man.
Niall Quinn believes that when one goal goes in the floodgates will open. Will that be tonight?
What about Finland?
I am not worried about our defence. While Ireland did lose to this side last month, the players have settled in a bit more. It will be interesting to see if Kevin Long is back in defence. If he is out, I expect to see Christie on the right and Doherty in centre-back once again. If Long does return then I would like to see Doherty drive forward like he did for Wolves and does for Tottenham. He has the quality to rip teams apart which hasn’t materialised in an Irish shirt.
No matter the defensive line-up, I think Duffy has them well marshalled at the back and they will keep another clean sheet tonight with the help of Randolph in goal. Teemu Pukki is a threat as always but I would be confident in our back four going off the last two performances.
Fredrik Jensen, the man who broke the deadlock last month, scored again in Finland’s impressive victory over Bulgaria at the weekend. He may start again and will need to be marked well. Despite the lack of goals, Ireland and Stephen Kenny can’t slip up now and give away sloppy goals.
The football and Ireland fan in me says 3-0 Ireland, but the realist says 0-0.
The game is not on terrestrial T.V. for some godforsaken (money grabbing) reason, so check it out on Sky Sports if you have it! I will be posting a match report this evening also!