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Wales secure promotion to Nations League top tier with victory over Finland

Wales v Finland – UEFA Nations League – Group B4 – Cardiff City Stadium
(Image credit: Nick Potts)

Wales secured promotion to the top tier of the Nations League with a 3-1 win over 10-man Finland in Cardiff.

Harry Wilson, Daniel James and Kieffer Moore were on target as Wales moved up to League A and virtually guaranteed themselves a 2022 World Cup play-off spot.

Teemu Pukki had halved the deficit to set up an anxious half-hour for the Dragons, but Moore’s header six minutes from time eased Welsh nerves.

Daniel James was on target as Wales won promotion to League A

Daniel James was on target as Wales won promotion to League A (Nick Potts/PA)

Finland needed to win to deprive Wales of top spot in Group B4, but they were forced to play with 10 men for 78 minutes after Jere Uronen hauled down Wilson with the forward through on goal.

Uronen had failed to deal with Danny Ward’s long goal-kick and Spanish referee Jesus Gil Manzano was quick to brandish his red card.

Wales were unbeaten in 10 competitive matches, a record-matching run in their history, and had kept seven successive clean sheets in that sequence.

They went into the game as the only team not to concede in all four tiers of the Nations League, and with a one-point advantage over opponents who had won four games in the competition since a 1-0 Helsinki defeat to Wales in September’s group opener.

Gareth Bale wore the armband while one short of 200 career goals and Wales made three changes from the side which edged out the Republic of Ireland on Sunday.

Connor Roberts, James Lawrence and Wilson came in with Neco Williams, the suspended Ben Davies and David Brooks dropping out.

Finland’s Robin Lod and Gareth Bale battle for the ball in Cardiff

Finland’s Robin Lod and Gareth Bale battle for the ball in Cardiff (Nick Potts/PA)

But caretaker boss Robert Page, standing in for the absent Ryan Giggs for a third game, persevered with the 3-4-3 system that had spluttered on Sunday before a formation change brought Brooks’ winner.

Finland were without suspended skipper Tim Sparv and striker Joel Pohjanpalo, who broke an ankle during Sunday’s 2-1 win in Bulgaria.

The visitors appeared anxious from the start with Daniel O’Shaughnessy’s fifth-minute error allowing Bale a shooting opportunity from a tight angle which goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky smothered.

Uronen’s dismissal tipped the scales firmly Wales’ way, but O’Shaugnessy should have done better when left unmarked at a corner.

Hradecky was a busy figure tipping away Rhys Norrington-Davies’ swirling cross and denying Bale from point-blank range after James had delivered a delightful cross.

But Welsh pressure was rewarded when Bale stole away from Joona Toivio and slipped in Wilson who finished in clinical fashion for his fourth international goal, and his first on home soil.

Kieffer Moore scores Wales' third to kill off the tie

Kieffer Moore scores Wales’ third to kill off the tie (Nick Potts/PA)

Norrington-Davies went close again and Wales sensed the kill at half-time with striker Moore sent on to replace defender James Lawrence.

Moore’s impact was instant as he helped Joe Morrell find James and the Manchester United winger claimed his third Wales goal in stunning fashion from 20 yards.

Wales’ previous four Nations League wins had been by a 1-0 margin, and this was the first time they had scored two in a game since beating Hungary 2-0 to reach Euro 2020 almost a year to the day.

Bale was withdrawn just after the hour mark with Wales seemingly in cruise control, but Finland had hope when Pukki found space in the penalty area to fire home.

Ward saved smartly from Nicholas Hamalainen and Toivio fired wide as Finland chased an unlikely equaliser amid a few Welsh wobbles.

But Moore headed home James’ cross to put the issue beyond doubt, and Finland knew it was not their night when Pukki struck a post moments later.