Last updated on 2 hours ago2 hours ago.From the section Wales
Wales will play Finland in their Euro 2024 play-off semi-final in Cardiff on 21 March.
The winner will earn a home tie against either Poland or Estonia five days later in a play-off final to reach the tournament proper in Germany.
Wales missed out on automatic qualification thanks to the 1-1 draw with Turkey on Tuesday, coupled with Croatia’s 1-0 win over Armenia.
But they were guaranteed a home semi-final in Thursday’s draw.
This was courtesy of their involvement in the top tier – League A – of the Nations League’s most recent edition.
“What was important to us was the home draw in the final, that was important to us, but we’ve got to get the job done [against Finland] first and foremost, of course we have,” Wales manager Robert Page said.
Wales have enjoyed success in recent play-offs, beating Austria and then Ukraine to reach the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, qualifying for the tournament for the first time since 1958.
Ukraine and Iceland were the other teams Wales could have been drawn against in the play-off semi-final and Page was quietly content with how the balls fell.
“We were probably wanting to avoid Ukraine as well, so it’s gone to plan for us,” Page added.
“I don’t think any team in that group would have been wanting to play us, I was more nervous for the home tie for the final.
“The form we’re in at the minute and the Red Wall (Wales’ supporters) at home, we’ll take anyone on in Cardiff.
“It’s a great opportunity for us; we’re two wins at home [away] from qualification for another major tournament.”
The past two competitive encounters with Finland both ended in Wales victories in the Nations League in 2020.
Their last meeting with Finland was a friendly in September 2021, when a depleted Wales were held to a goalless friendly draw in Helsinki – although Harry Wilson missed a penalty in that game.
Finland finished third in Group H as Denmark and Slovenia took the automatic qualification spots. It was a campaign of ups and downs, beating Slovenia and winning away in Kazakhstan – with whom Finland finished on the same points tally – but then losing at home to the same opponents.
Should Wales see off the Finns, the odds are that it would be Poland rather than Estonia as the last hurdle to overcome to reach Euro 2024.
Estonia are the lowest-ranked team in the play-offs, in 118th, and they finished bottom of Group F after losing seven of their eight matches. Poland are also at home in the play-off semi-finals, compounding the difficulty.
Although it has been a disappointing qualifying campaign for Poland – finishing third in Group E behind Albania and the Czech Republic – this was a side that reached the knockout stages of the World Cup less than a year ago.
And they have Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski, Poland’s all-time leading goalscorer with an incredible 82 from 146 games, who remains a potent threat even at the age of 35 – with 11 goals for club and country so far this season.
In their last meeting, Poland beat Wales 1-0 in Cardiff in September 2022 to relegate Page’s side from the top tier of the Nations League.
Wales have only beaten Poland once in 10 encounters, drawing two and losing seven, with that solitary success coming in qualifying for the 1973 World Cup thanks to goals from Leighton James and Trevor Hockey at the old Ninian Park.
Perhaps a new team and a new Cardiff stadium will see old qualifying glories revisited on 26 March – but first comes Finland.