N Ireland v Finland preview

Date published: Monday 24th August 2015 1:20

Michael O’Neill’s side won their opening three matches but were beaten 2-0 by group leaders Romania last time out.
Finland sit fourth in Group F and are without a win in three matches since their opening 3-1 victory over Faroe Islands. 
With the top two teams in each group progessing to France next summer, O’Neill will fancy their chances of a first ever European Championship appearance and first major tournament berth since 1986.
Team news
Northern Ireland defender Ben Reeves has been forced to pull out of the squad with a calf injury picked up in Wednesday’s friendly defeat to Scotland.
A number of senior players – including Chris Brunt, Gareth McAuley, Kyle Lafferty, Jamie Ward, Niall McGinn and Roy Carroll – are expected to return after being left out against Scotland.
Defender Jonny Evans played in midweek and is expected to return to competitive football after missing the defeat to Romania in November with a back injury and being the subject of a domestic ban after being found guilty of spitting at Newcastle’s Papiss Cisse.
Aaron Hughes is in line to earn his 96th Northern Ireland cap, which would see him break his country’s record for an outfield player.
Stats
Northern Ireland have only lost five of their last 21 competitive home games (W11 D5) since September 2006.
O’Neill’s men have failed to score in six of the last nine games and, going back further, in 26 of the last 44 internationals.
Finland are unbeaten in their last two matches (W1 D1) without conceding. They have not kept three successive clean sheets since a run of four 0-0 draws in succession back in 2007.
Former Liverpool striker Jari Litmanen is Finland’s record appearance-maker and goal-scorer with 32 goals in 137 international caps.
Northern Ireland have not qualified for any of last 14 major tournaments since 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Finland have never qualified for a major tournament.
Betting
Northern Ireland are expected to bounce back from their defeat in Romania with a home win over Finland, with Sky Bet going 13/8 on the hosts. Finland are expected to be competitive, though, and can be backed at 9/5 for three points or 2/1 to draw.
Kyle Lafferty is the first-goal favourite at 11/2, with Teemu Pukki considered Finland’s biggest goal threat at 2/1 to score anytime.
Pundits Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas have each tipped a home win, with Thommo going for 1-0 (5/1) and Nicholas predicting 2-1 (9/1). 
See goals from the European Qualifiers as they go in on Goal Zone on Sky Sports News HQ from 5pm on Sunday and watch Northern Ireland v Finland live on Sky Sports 5.

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