Author: Lewis Sharpe
Publisher: Y Clwb Pêl Droed
A free-flowing first 50 minutes and late header secured Wales promotion into League A of the Nations League as they topped their group in the decider against Finland.
Goals from Harry Wilson, Daniel James and Kieffer Moore secured all three points for Wales against their 10-men opposition.
Despite an excellent resurgence from the away side around the hour mark, a much-needed breath-taking performance by James inspired Wales to come out on top.
The win means Wales will go up against Europe’s powerhouses in Group A of the Nations League and will likely secure them a play-off for the 2022 World Cup, should they not secure a place at the tournament via their qualifying group.
The hosts were the better of the two sides early on and were successful in the pressing game, with Gareth Bale almost punishing the opposition’s defence in the opening moments. The attacker’s shot was well-saved by Lukas Hradecky.
Harry Wilson had a penalty shout in the 10th minute when the Cardiff City winger was seemingly tripped in the box when attempting to attack a cross.
The visitors were reduced to 10 men when Wilson was denied of a goal-scoring opportunity just two minutes later as defender Jere Uronen was dismissed.
Finland came close against the run of play when Daniel O’Shaughnessy’s miss-hit volley deflected off Teemu Pukki’s head before the referee calling for a free-kick against them.
Wales were next to edge closer to an opener when wingback Rhys Norrington-Davies’ cross from the left almost caught Hradecky off guard.
The Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper recovered well to tip over the crossbar.
Bale was granted a golden opportunity when he got on the end of an inch-perfect cross from Daniel James but his shot was saved superbly.
The deadlock was broken when Bale slipped Wilson through and the Corwen-born Bluebird finished at the front post calmly.
Norrington-Davies had an opportunity to compile misery on Finland when he was found in the box by Connor Roberts. The former’s shot was struck too high.
Wales ended the first half positively, having controlled possession in the dying stages.
Manchester United winger Daniel James doubled the lead a minute into the second half when his wonder-strike from range flew into the top corner.
Bale almost extended the advantage further when he found space in the box five minutes later. His effort was saved, somewhat at ease.
Norwich City striker Pukki almost punished Wales’ composed defence when he broke away in the 54th minute.
His attempt, however, was saved relatively calmly by Danny Ward.
James, seemingly full of confidence, showcased his flair when he beat two defenders out wide before firing wide from the left-hand side.
Tottenham Hotspur loanee Bale had another shot from distance saved by Hradecky around the hour mark.
Wales were made to regret missed chances in the 63rd minute when Finland reduced the deficit through Pukki.
The Championship striker was played through by midfielder Robin Lod before firing into the bottom corner.
The goal motivated the visitors who, although a man down, began dominating possession of the ball as the momentum switched dramatically.
Substitute Nicholas Hämäläinen almost made an instant impact when he came close to equalising five minutes later as his shot forced a save from Ward at his near post.
Joona Toivio also threatened Wales when his volley from the edge of the box flew agonisingly close of the woodwork.
James troubled Hradecky again with ten minutes left on the clock when his shot, this time from the right-hand side, was fired on target.
The tie was put to bed in the dying stages when half-time introduction Kieffer Moore headed home from a James cross to score his first home goal for Wales.
However, goal-scorer Pukki, a thorn in the Welsh defence throughout, struck the woodwork with his left foot minutes later, as he showcased Finland’s never-say-die attitude.
Wales: Danny Ward, Chris Mepham, Joe Rodon, Harry Wilson (David Brooks 89’), Gareth Bale © (Tom Lawrence 61’), Connor Roberts, Ethan Ampadu, Joe Morrell, Rhys Norrington-Davies (Chris Gunter 90+2), James Lawrence (Kieffer Moore 46’), Daniel James (Tyler Roberts 89’)
Goals: Harry Wilson (29’), Daniel James (46’), Kieffer Moore (84’)
Yellow Cards: Ethan Ampadu (76’)
Finland: Lukas Hradecky, Paulus Arajuuri ©, Joona Toivio, Glen Kamara, Robin Lod, Teemu Pukki (Marcus Forss 89’), Rasmus Schüller (Onni Valakari 73’), Daniel O’Shaughnessy (Nicholas Hämäläinen 61’), Robert Taylor (Pyry Soiri 61’), Nikolai Alho, Jere Uronen.
Goals: Teemu Pukki (63’)
Red Cards: Jere Uronen (12’)
(Featured Image: Lewis Sharpe)