Finns seeking valuable experience from Irish encounter

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The Independent Online

While England - wisely or not - seek out opposition of the highest quality in the long break between their two World Cup qualifying ties against Finland, the Finns believe that a friendly away to the Republic of Ireland tonight will stand them in good stead for the game at Anfield in March. For most observers, Finland had a good share of last month's goalless draw against the side hastily thrown together by Howard Wilkinson in the wake of Kevin Keegan's abdication. At Lansdowne Road this evening, they will be given valuable experience of defending and counter-attacking against a squad of mainly Premiership players.

While England - wisely or not - seek out opposition of the highest quality in the long break between their two World Cup qualifying ties against Finland, the Finns believe that a friendly away to the Republic of Ireland tonight will stand them in good stead for the game at Anfield in March. For most observers, Finland had a good share of last month's goalless draw against the side hastily thrown together by Howard Wilkinson in the wake of Kevin Keegan's abdication. At Lansdowne Road this evening, they will be given valuable experience of defending and counter-attacking against a squad of mainly Premiership players.

Even without the injured Roy Keane and Niall Quinn, Ireland should provide just the sort of test required. As Jiri Litmanen, who tormented England in Helsinki, said yesterday: "Playing the Republic is the best possible preparation for the match against England. There are some differences, but it's the type of football we will expect [from England]. As for us, we have some gifted young players coming through and we could show some changes by then."

There are five alterations to last month's team. Liverpool's Sami Hyypia and Stockport's Jarkko Wiss are unavailable and Crystal Palace's Mikael Forssel has been dropped. The Hearts goalkeeper Antti Niemi, Derby's Simo Valakari and Charlton's Jonatan Johansson all keep their place and the 20 year-old Teemu Tainio of Auxerre is introduced instead of the even younger Forssel.

"JJ has been superb in the Premiership," said Charlton team-mate Mark Kinsella, who captains the Irish for the first time, two days after being voted his country's Player of the Year ahead of Keane and Quinn. He will be joined in the centre of midfield by Ipswich's Matt Holland, who jinked past him on Saturday to score in the meeting at Portman Road and has not allowed him to forget it. "I think we'll complement one another well," Kinsella said. "We're both box-to-box players, who can push on or hold, depending on what's needed."

The Republic manager Mick McCarthy, sensitive to the needs of club managers, will not risk Stephen Carr's suspect ankle and has promised that the Leeds full-backs Gary Kelly and Ian Harte will not be required to play a full game in the middle of a hectic Premiership and Champions' League schedule. Fulham's Steve Finnan will start on the right of midfield and could revert to his club position of right-back later in the game. Alan Kelly and Jason McAteer, neither of whom have been first-choices under Graeme Souness at Blackburn, will be on the substitutes' bench, but Quinn's injury means that Watford's Dominic Foley, another First Division irregular, has a rare opportunity to shine. He will partner Robbie Keane, once a team-mate at Wolves, and another player with something to prove to his club.

Although Keane professes himself delighted with the move from Coventry City to Internazionale, he has yet to convince Inter's new coach Marco Tardelli and could be farmed out to a less glamorous Serie A club. "He's in the shop window for his club manager, but his performances for us have been outstanding," McCarthy said.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (4-4-2; probable): Given (Newcastle); G Kelly (Leeds), Breen (Coventry), Dunne (Manchester City), Harte (Leeds); Finnan (Fulham), Holland (Ipswich), Kinsella (Charlton), Kilbane (Sunderland); Foley (Watford), Robbie Keane (Internazionale).

FINLAND (4-5-1, probable): Niemi (Hearts); Nylund (HJK), Tihinen (Viking), Pasanen (Ajax), Saarinen (HJK); Riihilahti (Valerenga), Valakari (Derby), Kolkka (PSV Eindhoven), Litmanen (Barcelona), Johansson (Charlton); Tainio (Auxerre).

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