Finland's slender hopes of qualifying for UEFA EURO 2008™ took another blow today when IF Elfsborg midfielder Jari Ilola was ruled out of the double-header against Azerbaijan and Portugal due to a knee injury.
The withdrawal comes a day after striker Alexei Eremenko Jr pulled out after being attacked in Moscow following an end-of-season dinner organised by his club, FC Saturn Moskovskaya Oblast. Coach Roy Hodgson is yet to name any replacements, but may do with his squad now down to 21 players. Finland need to defeat Azerbaijan on Saturday before their Group A campaign concludes with a game in Portugal the following Wednesday.
The Azeris will be greeted by freezing weather and snow in Helsinki, although the pitch at the Olympiastadion remains in great condition thanks to the undersoil heating. "Snow or sleet, I don't mind that," said Finland defender Sami Hyypiä. "One thing is for sure - no matter what the weather is like, the pitch will be better than the one in Baku." Hodgson's team lost the reverse fixture 1-0 in March.
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