Wales braced for crunch Finland Euro play-off

Venue: Cardiff City Stadium Date: Thursday, 21 March Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on S4C, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds, BBC Sport website and app, plus live text
Highlights: Match of the Day Wales, BBC One Wales from 22:40 and later on demand

Wales will be one win away from Euro 2024 if they beat Finland in their home play-off semi-final on Thursday.

Victory will set up a one-leg play-off final at Cardiff City Stadium against Poland or Estonia on Tuesday.

Having failed to qualify for a major tournament between 1958 and 2016, Wales are aiming to reach their fourth out of five – and a third successive Euros.

“There’s everything to play for but we’re fully prepared for it,” said Wales manager Robert Page.

“It’s quite a relaxed environment and that’s not because we’re blase about it or taking things for granted.

“We’re in good form at this moment in time, most of the squad are playing football for their clubs, training has been excellent.

“We have gone through similar experiences with the pressure of the play-off situations against Austria and Ukraine [to qualify for the 2022 World Cup], and the difficulty surrounding that.

“We are all quite relaxed but not underestimating the challenge.”

Wales are still in the midst of the most successful period in their history, albeit perhaps at the tail end of their absolute peak following the departures of some notable players.

This has been their first qualifying campaign since the retirement of Gareth Bale – arguably the greatest player in Wales’ history – and other key figures such as Joe Allen.

Such a period of adjustment has brought with it some turbulence, including a humiliating home defeat against Armenia last June and other poor results which put Page under pressure at times.

His players rallied superbly to beat World Cup semi-finalists Croatia last October but, ultimately, Wales still missed out on automatic qualification after finishing behind Turkey and Croatia in their group.

Luckily for Page and his players, however, their performance in the Nations League over recent years secured them the back-up option of a play-off place.

“We have lost one of the world’s best players with Gareth,” said Page.

“There’s been enough in the squad to put us in a position where we are two wins away from qualifying for the fourth time [out of five major tournaments].

“Of course he’s going to be missed on and off the pitch but it gives others an opportunity, like Harry Wilson, probably a bit-part player when Gareth was at his peak.

“Now ‘H’ has made a stake for a starting position again and, with what he’s doing at club level, has earnt that right. Others have taken that opportunity with both hands and are relishing that challenge.”

Finland also finished third in their group, with Denmark and Slovenia taking the automatic qualification spots.

The Finns are aiming to qualify for only their second major tournament, having made it to the group stage of Euro 2020.

Team news

Ben Davies (right) with Aaron Ramsey

Wales captain Aaron Ramsey is expected to be on the bench, having only made a brief substitute appearance for Cardiff City last Saturday following a calf strain.

Tottenham Hotspur defender Ben Davies is set to wear the armband again, having led Wales in October and November when Ramsey was ruled out with a knee injury.

Ipswich Town winger Wes Burns, Swansea City centre-back Ben Cabango and Wycombe Wanderers central defender Joe Low have withdrawn from Wales’ squad because of injury.

Niall Huggins, Joe Morrell and Tom Bradshaw were already missing through injury, while Luton Town captain Tom Lockyer is not included as he continues his recovery from the cardiac arrest he suffered during a Premier League match in December.

Finland are without midfielder Robert Taylor, while Middlesbrough striker Marcus Forss is a doubt.

Match facts

  • This will be Wales’ 16th meeting with Finland in all competitions – excluding the home nations and Republic of Ireland, they’ve only ever faced the Czech Republic (18), Belgium (17) and Germany (17) more often.
  • Wales are unbeaten in their past four meetings with Finland in all competitions, most recently a 0-0 draw in a friendly in September 2021.
  • Finland lost their last away game against Wales 3-1 in November 2020. Prior to this, they had been unbeaten each of their last five such visits (two wins, three draws).
  • Wales have won their past two competitive meetings with Finland, both in the Nations League in 2020. They’ve never won three in a row against them before.
  • Wales have never won a European Championship play-off match, drawing and losing against Hungary in 1962-1963, Yugoslavia in 1976 and Russia in 2003. However, they did qualify for the 2022 World Cup via the play-offs.
  • This is Finland’s first appearance in the play-off rounds for either the World Cup or European Championship. They won six games in the group stages, their joint-most in a single Euro or World Cup qualifying campaign.
  • Daniel James has been involved in five goals in his past five home appearances for Wales (one goal, four assists), scoring or assisting every 55 minutes across those appearances.
  • Teemu Pukki – who is Finland’s all-time leading scorer (39) and has won the second-most caps (118) behind Jari Litmanen (137) – has been involved in 17 goals in his last 18 European Championship qualifying appearances (12 goals, five assists).

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