MX23RW : Saturday, July 31 20:17:05| >> :600:2022733:2022733:
Jun 21, 2021 at 8pm UK at Saint-Petersburg Stadium
FT(HT: 0-0)
Hradecky (74' og.), Lukaku (81')

Preview: Finland vs. Belgium - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Monday's European Championship clash between Finland and Belgium, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Currently the world's top-ranked nation, Belgium have emerged as winners in their first two games of Euro 2020 and seek to continue their flawless run against Finland on Monday.

With maximum points enough to qualify for the last 16 with a game to spare, Roberto Martinez's men can now secure first place in Group B with either a draw or a victory, while their Finnish counterparts must win to ensure progress.

Match preview

Belgium's Kevin De Bruyne celebrates during the Euro 2020 clash with Denmark on June 17, 2021© Reuters

Living up to their pre-tournament status among the favourites, Belgium have strode to successive away victories over Russia in Saint Petersburg and then Denmark in an emotionally-charged Copenhagen last time out.

A top-class cameo display from Kevin de Bruyne inspired his side to reverse an early deficit at the Parken Stadium, as fans and players paid tribute to stricken midfielder Christian Eriksen, who continues to recover from his mid-game cardiac arrest last weekend.

In beating the Danes 2-1 last Thursday, the Red Devils became the first team to come from behind to win at this edition of the Euros; stretching their perfect record in the competition - qualifiers included - to 12 wins out of 12. In fact, they have now won 21 of their last 25 matches altogether, with the only defeat in that time coming at Wembley in the Nations League last October.

Given recent runs to the latter stages of major competitions for the current 'golden generation', reaching the final for the first time since 1980 - when they lost 2-1 to West Germany in Rome - remains the goal of the most experienced squad at these Championships.

A multi-talented selection, which now contains five players with 100 or more caps, will come into their third and final group stage fixture amid familiar surroundings. Their fifth match in St Petersburg during the past three years sees them back on the Krestovsky Stadium turf as strong favourites to top their group - thereby securing a last-16 clash with one of the third-place finishers.

Though Martinez and company lost to France there in the 2018 World Cup semi-final, they recovered to beat England in the third-place play-off four days later, before later seeing off Russia in the picturesque port city on two separate occasions - a 4-1 win in their faultless qualifying campaign and last week's 3-0 canter on Group B's dramatic opening night.

Finland's Joel Pohjanpalo celebrates scoring their first goal against Denmark at Euro 2020 on June 12, 2021© Reuters

On their debut in the European Championship - in fact their first appearance at any men's major tournament at all - Finland's fortunes have been mixed so far, but hope remains high that they can emulate near neighbours Iceland's run to the knockout stages in 2016.

Their second successive match in St Petersburg - after they lost what was effectively an away game to Russia last time out - will see them take the field in their favoured role: as unfancied underdogs with plenty of bite.

Though the Finns followed their controversial 1-0 win against Denmark with a defeat by the same scoreline, they are level with the Russians on three points going into the final round.

Therefore, Markku Kanerva's men will go through with a win - or even a draw if Russia lose to Denmark in the other Group B fixture, to be played concurrently. In an improbable dream scenario, Finland would actually top the group if they manage a famous win over Belgium and Russia fail to take maximum points.

Undoubtedly, the gulf in class between the Eagle-owls and their next opponents is significant, but there has been little between the teams in their 11 meetings to date. Perhaps surprisingly, Finland have posted four wins to Belgium's three and are unbeaten in seven matches against the Red Devils since a 6-1 loss in October 1968.

Chief carrier of their hopes on Monday evening will once more be Norwich City frontman Teemu Pukki, who scored 10 of his nation's 16 goals in qualifying - being involved in nearly 70% of their strikes on the road to the finals.

However, Pukki has yet to get off the mark this summer, as it was fellow striker Joel Pohjanpalo's match-winning header against Denmark that made him the first Finnish footballer to score at a major tournament. In all, that was his 10th international goal and a third in as many games, meaning that the Union Berlin man has now scored all of Finland's last three goals.

The pair's input will be vital if the Finns are to upset the odds and claim victory on Monday, particularly as their opening success - amid highly unusual circumstances - is the only win they have managed from their last eight matches; a sequence incorporating five defeats.

Finland European Championship form:
  • W
  • L

Finland form (all competitions):
  • D
  • L
  • L
  • L
  • W
  • L

Belgium European Championship form:
  • W
  • W

Belgium form (all competitions):
  • D
  • W
  • D
  • W
  • W
  • W

Team News

Timothy Castagne pictured for Atalanta in October 2019© Reuters

With qualification secured, Belgium may make several changes, offering more minutes to talisman Kevin De Bruyne, who stepped up his recovery from facial fractures in Denmark and will feature again on Monday.

However, wing-back Timothy Castagne's campaign has been ended after a clash of heads versus Russia left the Leicester City man suffering from a similar injury, so Thomas Meunier is likely to continue on the right flank. Wing-back Thorgan Hazard has sustained a minor knee sprain, so will not be risked.

Head coach Roberto Martinez has stated his keenness to hand midfield lynchpin Axel Witsel and injury-hit captain Eden Hazard starts too, as they look to build match-sharpness ahead of bigger tests to come. Meanwhile, much-fancied teenage forward Jeremy Doku may also see some action from the bench.

Though their opponents may opt to rotate and involve fringe members of their squad, Finland will instead retain a relatively unchanged lineup.

Having been defensively solid in their opening encounters, Markku Kanerva may resist the temptation to recall right-back Nikolai Alho, who overcame an ankle sprain to make the bench last time out in Russia.

While Jukka Raitala was forced to come off late on in the opening match due to a calf problem, he is fit to start again in a resolute rearguard, set to be shielded by all-action Rangers star Glen Kamara and 34-year-old captain Tim Sparv, who did not feature in Wednesday's defeat.

Finland possible starting lineup:
Hradecky; O'Shaughnessy, Arajuuri, Toivio; Uronen, Kamara, Sparv, Kauko, Raitala; Pohjanpalo, Pukki

Belgium possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Alderweireld, Dendoncker, Vertonghen; Meunier, De Bruyne, Witsel, Chadli; E. Hazard, Lukaku, Carrasco

SM words green background

We say: Finland 1-3 Belgium

As some of the names coming into the Belgium XI are even more illustrious than those they will replace for an already-qualified side, their technical superiority should win out over the Finns greater match-fitness.

De Bruyne, Witsel and the ever-elusive Hazard senior would brighten up any teamsheet, with only the odd defensive lapse to concern the Red Devils heading into the knockout stages.

Top tip

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Belgium players celebrate scoring against Greece on June 3, 2021
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Olympic medal table header
CountryGold medalSilver MedalBronze MedalT
United StatesUnited States16171346
Olympics flagOlympic Athletes from Russia11151137
Great BritainGreat Britain891128
Today's Olympic highlights header

Sunday's key events

· The men's golf reaches its conclusion, with plenty of players still in medal contention. Home favourite Hideki Matsuyama is one shot off Xander Schauffele's lead, while Great Britain's Paul Casey is another shot further back and Tommy Fleetwood is also in the mix (11.30pm-8am)

· Great Britain have already made history in the BMX events in Tokyo, something Charlotte Worthington and Declan Brooks will be looking to add to in the women's (2.10am) and men's (3.10am) freestyle finals

· The final day of swimming action begins with the men's 50m freestyle final. Ben Proud could add to a medal-laden Games in the pool for Team GB so far, although he is up against USA's Caeleb Dressel, who is going for his fourth gold in Tokyo (2.30am)
· From sprint to endurance, Great Britain's second medal hope of the day comes through Daniel Jervis in the men's 1500m freestyle final (2.44am)
· Team GB will again be among the heavy favourites for gold in the last swimming event of the Games - the men's 4x100m medley relay final - having won the mixed event in a world record time on Saturday (3.36am)

· Already guaranteed at least a bronze, Pat McCormack takes part in the men's welterweight semi-final against Ireland's Aidan Walsh with a spot in the gold medal final at stake (4.03am)
· Ben Whittaker is also in the semi-finals of the men's light heavyweight and will be looking to continue Team GB's success in the ring (4.51am)

· There will be a surprise on the top of the men's tennis podium after Novak Djokovic missed out on a medal altogether. Alexander Zverev takes on Karen Khachanov in the second match on Centre Court at the Ariake Tennis Park (7am-2pm)

· Alison Young will be going for gold in the women's laser radial medal race (7.33am)

· Team GB's Max Whitlock will look to defend his 2016 Olympic title in the men's pommel horse final (10.41am)

· The men's high jump final includes GB's Tom Gale, although his chances of a medal look bleak (11.10am)
· So often the blue-riband event of the Olympics, the men's 100m final takes place as the world's fastest bid to be crowned Usain Bolt's successor. Three Brits have made it into the semi-finals (11.15am-11.32am), and the final looks wide open after an underwhelming display by favourite Trayvon Bromell on Saturday (1.50pm)

· Great Britain face India in the men's quarter-final (1pm)

> Today's schedule in full
Todays Game Header Right
Olympic Games Men's Football
Scottish Premiership
Pre-Season Friendlies
Portuguese Super Cup
Taca da Liga
Scottish Championship
Scottish League One
Scottish League Two
Belgian Pro League
Swiss Super League
Russian Premier League
Ukrainian Premier League
Swedish Allsvenskan
Danish Superliga
Finnish Veikkausliiga
League of Ireland Premier
Belarusian Premier League
Ligue 2
Major League Soccer
Copa Diego Maradona
Uruguayan Primera Division
Liga MX
Chinese Super League

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