Wales fly past Finland and book a Euro 2024 play-off final date with Poland

By Sports Desk March 21, 2024

Wales thrashed Finland 4-1 in Cardiff to set up a Euro 2024 play-off final with Poland.

First-half goals from David Brooks and Neco Williams put the hosts in cruise control and raised hopes of a stress-free evening for the vast majority of a sell-out Cardiff City Stadium crowd.

Teemu Pukki banished those thoughts on the stroke of half-time with his 40th Finland goal, but Brennan Johnson quickly restored Wales’ two-goal cushion after the break and substitute Daniel James rounded off matters late on.

Wales will welcome Poland – 5-1 winners over Estonia in the other Path A semi-final – to Cardiff on Tuesday to decide a place at Euro 2024 this summer.

A far sterner test awaits from Robert Lewandowski and company than Thursday’s opponents, who were ranked 60th in the world and 31 places below Rob Page’s team.

But Wales will be comforted by a strong Cardiff record of only three defeats in 20 games during Page’s tenure.

It was almost two years to the day since a Gareth Bale-inspired Wales had beaten Austria in Cardiff to progress to a World Cup play-off final.

Bale’s retirement from football ahead of this qualification campaign had left Wales with almost an impossible hole to fill.

But taking four points from 2022 World Cup semi-finalists Croatia had given them hope there was life after their talismanic captain, although Wales – like Finland – had to settle for the play-offs after finishing third in their qualifying group.

Ethan Ampadu filled a midfield role in winning his 50th cap at the age of 23 and found himself in direct opposition to Leeds team-mate Glen Kamara.

Page’s main call surrounded his three-man strike force and the Wales boss plumped for Brooks, Johnson and Harry Wilson, leaving Kieffer Moore to join a bench that included Aaron Ramsey following a calf problem.

Wales had a dream start inside three minutes as Brooks claimed his fourth international goal.

Wilson’s shot was pushed out by Finland goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky but Brooks adjusted his feet well to volley home the rebound.

The early goal suggested lift-off for Wales but Finland responded well and enjoyed a greater share of possession and threatened sporadically.

Daniel Hakans volleyed over from Nikolai Alho’s knock-down and Pukki sent a weak effort at Danny Ward.

Joel Pohjanpalo also saw his attempt blocked while Wales were creating few moments of excitement at the other end.

That changed just after the half-hour mark after Wilson forced Hradecky into a diving stop from 25 yards.

Johnson won a free-kick on the edge of the area and Finland were perhaps expecting Wilson’s left foot to target the right of Hradecky’s goal. But Wilson ran over the ball and touched it to Williams, who gave Hradecky no chance by drilling it to his left.

Finland had a mountain to climb but they gave themselves hope on the stroke of half-time.

Pohjanpalo fed Pukki and the former Norwich striker stayed onside and cut across Chris Mepham to beat Ward with a calm finish.

The timing of the goal would have infuriated Page but Wales struck again two minutes after the restart when Ampadu met Wilson’s free-kick at the far post.

The ball fell to Brooks in a crowded penalty area and his scuffed shot fell perfectly into the path of the waiting Johnson.

Wilson curled wide as Wales sought to put the tie to bed and Moore, sent on for Brooks, fired straight at Hradecky after being slipped through by the outstanding Ampadu.

Ben Davies had a late header ruled out by a VAR check, before substitute Dan James raced through unchallenged to round Hradecky and add a fourth.

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