Cymru were held to a 0-0 draw against Finland in Helsinki on a night where Rob Page's side were left frustrated having created the much better chances on goal while Harry Wilson was denied from the penalty spot in the opening half.
Finland 0-0 Cymru
International Challenge Match
- Wednesday, 1 September 2021
- Helsinki Olympic Stadium, Helsinki
Cymru made a positive start to the match and inside the opening few minutes Ethan Ampadu headed a free-kick from Dylan Levitt over the bar. Wilson then showed his confidence on the ball as he made darting run through the Finnish defence before his shot was blocked after seven minutes.
Finland soon settled into the game, and as they retained the ball for longer periods, so Cymru retreated to two deeper defensive lines but remained dangerous on the counter-attack. Fredrik Jensen had an effort from range blocked for the home side in what was a rare chance on goal, but captain Danny Ward remained untroubled as Cymru remained disciplined and organised at the back.
The big talking point of the opening half arrived on 24 minutes when Brennan Johnson was brought down in the area by Niko Hämäläinen after beating the defender for pace. Wilson stepped up to take the resulting spot-kick, but goalkeeper Carljohan Eriksson palmed away his effort on his international debut as the game remained goalless at half-time.
Finland made a strong start to the second half, with substitute Urho Nissilä making a positive impression on his international debut in the early exchanges as his effort was deflected for a corner on 50 minutes. It marked the start of a period of pressure for the home side, but it was Cymru who came close to opening the scoring on 55 minutes when Wilson was again denied by Eriksson as the keeper turned away his free-kick.
An impressive run from Matthew Smith from the left on the hour mark almost brought the first goal of the game but the midfielder's shot went narrowly wide of the post. Substitute Rubin Colwill also tried his luck on 78 minutes after he replaced the impressive Johnson, and almost converted a cross from Wilson on 81 minutes but his effort went narrowly wide.
Gareth Bale replaced Roberts for the final few minutes to make his 97th international appearance and had a couple of half-chances to find the decisive goal, but it remained goalless as referee Kristo Tohver brought matters to a close, leaving Cymru the more frustrated of the two teams having created the better chances over the course of the match.
Match fitness – With Ethan Ampadu and Tyler Roberts two of the players unable to travel to Kazan for the match against Belarus due to visa issues, Rob Page used the opportunity to start both players and with it give them some much-needed minutes on the field ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Estonia next Wednesday. The requirement to play a friendly ahead of two important qualifiers has been criticised, but Page has used it to his advantage in the case of Ampadu and Roberts at least.
The new attacking trio – The experimental starting line-up provided a new attacking trio in the shape of Tyler Roberts, Harry Wilson and Brennan Johnson, who made his first start for his country. The 20-year old made a positive impression with his pace earning Cymru their opening half penalty. In addition, Roberts and Wilson combined well in the final third, and both played with an attacking confidence that suggested that they were embracing the rare opportunity to play together in their respective roles.
Experimental experience – During the course of the last twelve months Cymru have regularly switched between playing with a back three and a back four, while other tactical variations further up the field have been made to accommodate players and to react to the unavailability of others. This necessity to adapt from game to game has made the side incredibly versatile and there is an ability within the group to react easily to such change. But there are as many benefits in the personnel changes to the tactical alterations, and the excellent performance from midfielder Matthew Smith on his 15th cap was a good example of how these opportunities can really be taken advantage of.
Both teams named experimental line-ups due to upcoming qualifiers, and the fact that goalkeeper and captain Danny Ward was the only player to keep his place in the starting line-up from the last game against Denmark at UEFA EURO 2020 emphasised just how difficult a week this has been for manager Rob Page. Cymru did the double over Finland in the UEFA Nations League last year, and will feel that they did enough to claim a third victory in this match with Harry Wilson being denied from the spot and a number of other chances drifting narrowly wide.
The match provided an opportunity to give a number of players minutes on the field, and to come away from the match without any additional injuries will be a welcome bonus in a week that has produced few positives for Cymru. Impressive individual performances from Dylan Levitt, Matthew Smith and Brennan Johnson in particular will be the main positives to take from the match, together with another away clean-sheet which will only benefit their defensive confidence ahead of the next two games.
Finland XI: Eriksson (GK), Hämäläinen, Toivio (c), Kamara, Jensen (Taylor 64), Kairinen, Ivanov, Hostikka (Soiri 64), Forss (Pohjanpalo 73), Assehnoun (Nissilä 46), Raitala (Alho 73). Subs: Hradecky (GK), O'Shaughnessy, Väisänen, Valakari, Pukki, Schüller.
Manager: Markku Kanerva.
Cymru XI: Ward (GK)(c) (Hennessey 46), Lockyer, Wilson, T.Roberts (Bale 83), J.Williams (Sheehan 63), Lawrence (B.Davies 46), Ampadu (Woodburn 73), Norrington-Davies, Smith, Johnson (Colwill 63), Levitt. Subs: King (GK), Gunter, Cooper, Mepham, Morrell, Harris.
Manager: Rob Page.
Referee: Kristo Tohver (EST), Assistant referees: Silver Koiv (EST) & Sten Klaasen (EST), Fourth official: Joonas Jaanovits (EST)Click here to buy tickets for Estonia vs Cymru in Cardiff on 8 September