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Sunday September 8 2019
Finland's players to watch out for

Finland host Italy in the EURO 2020 qualifiers this evening and Sam Wilson identifies the three danger men to keep a close eye on.

Italy have a 100 per cent record in qualifying so far, but the only thing separating them from second-place Finland is their opening 2-0 result in Udine. The Finns have picked up four consecutive victories with clean sheets, beating the likes of Bosnia and Greece.

With Finland hosting this time round, the Nordic side will be looking to pick up a shock result that could throw the race for first place on its head and scupper Roberto Mancini’s perfect start. The hosts have some important players who will be looking to continue their form this evening, so here are three to watch out for.

Teemu Pukki

There is really only one appropriate word to sum up Teemu Pukki’s 2019-20 campaign so far: electric. After scoring 29 goals in the EFL Championship last season to help Norwich City win promotion to the Premier League, Pukki has started his debut season in England’s top flight with a bang, netting five goals in the first four games.

Furthermore, the striker has scored four in Finland’s five Euro 2020 qualifiers so far and will be looking to tap into his good form to add to that tally tonight.

Pukki is an extremely talented goal-scorer, a poacher in the finest form of his career and will have both momentum and the support of neutrals behind him as Finland look to score against Italy for the first time in six games. Their last goal past the Azzurri was in a 6-1 defeat back in 1977.

Robin Lod

Attacking midfielder Robin Lod has been one of Finland’s main creative outputs in the EURO qualifiers so far. With three assists in five games, the 26-year-old, who signed with high-flying MLS side Minnesota United in July, will look to be at his best this evening.

Lod represents a dangerous threat to Italy, his versatility in the midfield making him a useful tool for shifting the formation around mid-game. His competence as a creative outlet will prove key if the Finnish wish to benefit from Pukki’s good form up front.

Lod thrives most when he hangs back just behind the front line, opening up space for Pukki and BATE Borisov striker Jasse Tuominen to either make runs in behind the back line or to come closer and receive short one-twos to help unlock attacking moves.

Lukas Hradecky

Despite that aforementioned 2-0 loss to Italy in March, Finland have been extremely solid in defence. Without conceding a single goal in their other four matches so far, this can be partly pinned on goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky.

He is one of the nation’s most high-profile players, starring between the posts for Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen, where he moved on a free transfer from fellow German outfit Eintracht Frankfurt in the summer of 2018.

Hradecky has pulled off some impressive saves in the qualifiers so far and Finland will need their shot-stopper to be on good form if they wish to deny Italy this evening. This season so far, the ‘keeper has conceded three goals in three games, keeping one clean sheet, as Bayer Leverkusen sit in fourth place with two wins and one draw. A lot of focus will be on Finland’s front line this evening, but Hradecky is equally as important to the nation’s potential success.

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