Cymru 4-1 Finland: Y Dreigiau just a match away from EURO2024 after victory in Cardiff

Appearances at the past two European Championships have left Cymru hungry for more, and as they welcomed Finland to Cardiff City Stadium on Thursday, that desire shone through. With this qualification campaign coming as their first without the talismanic Gareth Bale, Rob Page’s side could have faltered, cracked under the pressure or worse.

Thursday’s display in front of a sellout crowd certainly wasn’t the prettiest – but it was effective, and Cymru now have just five days to prepare for a winner-takes-all clash against Poland. That match will be held at Cardiff City Stadium too; the hosts will look to make full use of their home advantage once again to seal participation in their third consecutive European Championship.

Finland are by no means a bad side. Ex-Norwich City striker Teemu Pukki was perhaps the household name in Markku Kanerva’s starting lineup, but the Huuhkajat would also benefit from the services of veteran goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky and the Italian Serie B’s top goalscorer, Joel Pohjanpalo.

As it happened

Despite Championship highflyers Dan James and Kieffer Moore being named on the bench, Y Dreigiau roared into life after just three minutes in Cardiff – as Bournemouth’s David Brooks ghosted through the defence, slamming home a mid-air finish after Hradecky had done well to deny Harry Wilson’s initial effort.

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Finland sought an instant response, and looked for much of the half to be the more confident side as they limited Cymru to chances on the counterattack. Robin Lod took one for the team as the midway point of the first half approached, earning a yellow card for a scything challenge on the ever-advancing Neco Williams.

With an additional goal needed to act as a safety net against a Finland side producing a plethora of chances, a foul from Rasmus Schüller on the edge of the box would provide just the opportunity to double their lead. A slight touch from Wilson rolled the ball forwards for Williams, with the Nottingham Forest man smashing a thunderous strike through the gap in the Finland wall and past the outstretched arms of Hradecky.

But Cymru, as evidenced by the earlier stages of their qualification campaign, do not believe in taking the easy route. On the stroke of half-time, Pukki was afforded space to break into the box and beat Danny Ward – with his effort finding the bottom-right corner and finally being given after an offside check against the ex-Norwich man.

As they had done in the first half though, Cymru emerged from the tunnel with a blistering desire to wrap up a dream date with Poland – who by that point were 1-0 up against a ten-man Estonian side in Warsaw. A free-kick floated towards the back post just two minutes into the half was nodded back into the box and flicked on towards Johnson, who slammed home from close range to restore Y Dreigiau’s two-goal buffer.

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Despite having one foot firmly in Tuesday’s final, Cymru did not ease off the gas in the second half. Wilson was perhaps unlucky not to double his personal tally for the evening, blasting marginally wide of the post before substitute Kieffer Moore saw his close-range effort held well by Hradecky. Ben Davies did indeed find the back of the net with ten minutes remaining in Cardiff, only to see VAR deny his celebrations for an apparent offside infringement.

Y Dreigiau did find their fourth goal though with little under five minutes left to play at Cardiff City Stadium, as substitute Dan James forced a defensive error from Miro Tenho – allowing him to dart though on goal, round Hradecky and slot into an empty net to spark euphoric celebrations amongst the Red Wall for a final time on Thursday.

Rob Page’s men now eagerly await the visit of Poland on Tuesday, following a 5-1 demolition of Estonia by Michał Probierz’s men. The winner of that decisive showdown will progress to this summer’s EURO2024 tournament, joining the Netherlands, France and Austria in Group D.

Finland will now face Estonia on Tuesday, and head coach Markku Kanerva brushed off any suggestions that his side do not want to play the friendly fixture. ‘Of course we want to play every game we can,’ he insisted, adding that the ‘Estonia game will be a preparation game for the [UEFA] Nations League.’

The lineups

CYM: Ward; Roberts, Rodon, Mepham, Davies, Williams; Ampadu, J James; Wilson, Brooks, Johnson

FIN: Hradecky; Peltola, Ivanov, Tenho, Alho; Kamara, Schüller, Lod; Håkans, Pohjanpalo, Pukki