And then there were three …
Two Teemo Pukki penalty kicks, one sufficient to negate the Greek threat, the other just not enough to hold the Italians provided the highlights of Finland’s international break.
But other results also went their way with Armenia’s 4-2 defeat of Bosnia, and Greece’s failure to record victory over Liechtenstein at Athens’s huge Olympic Stadium in front of only 3,445 fans. These are not good days for Greek international soccer, and this result all but confirms their exit from European qualification.
So with the Azzurri striding ahead and beating all-comers in the group, the battle for the second automatic qualification spot is down to a trio of countries, best-placed Finland, Armenia and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Impact’s Finnish pair did not appear in either of their country’s games together this time around. Minor injury deprived Lassi Lappalainen against Greece and despite earning good reviews for his performance in that game, Jukka Raitala was left on the bench for part two of the double-header against Italy, a game which Lappalainen started.
The reason for Raitala’s omission against Italy was tactical, coach Kanerva switching from a familiar back four to a 5-4-1 formation. Raitala was replaced by Albin Granlund on the right with the Orebro SK man seen as a better fit in the wing-back role due to his stamina and movement. Had Finland kept their more normal 4-4-2 it’s likely Raitala would have been included against the Italians too.
The Finns conceded for the first time in 11 home games when Ciro Immobile registered his first international goal in two years to put the visitors in front, and after Pukki’s spot-kick equalizer, suffered penalty pain themselves when Barella’s shot struck Vaisanen, who was yellow-carded.
Chelsea’s Jorginho applied the finish for Italy with 11 minutes remaining.
Lappalainen had been replaced 4 minutes prior by Jasse Tuominen of FC BATE Borisov.
Still well-placed, the Finns have another huge international break next month with critical matches against each rival for that second spot. The trip to Bosnia looks more tricky on paper than the game a few days later when they host Armenia, but should they secure a draw in the first of those games, and win the second, qualification is likely to be secured by defeating Liechtenstein at home in November.
Then the celebrations really will begin.