Style over substance
On Thursday night Finland succumbed to a 1-0 home defeat at the hands of a below-par Wales side. Clad in their new kit, and surrounded by the modernized and polished new Olympiastadion Markku Kanerva also decided to try out a new system.
Daniel O’shaugnessy, Juhani Ojala and Leo Väisänen lined up in a back three with Joni Kauko, Glen Kamara and Tim Sparv ahead in a midfield three, Jere Uronen and debutante Ilmari Niskanen on the flanks, with Joe Pohjanpalo and Teemu Pukki up front. The visitors stuck with tradition, playing a 4-2-3-1 with the industrious Daniel James down the left, Gareth Bale down the right and the burly Keefer Moore up top.
Inside the first three minutes the visitors had the ball in the back of the net. Tottenham full back Ben Davies slipped a ball in behind Niskanen, Daniel James jinked away from the KuPS winger floated a ball in for Moore who nodded home from four yards. Luckily German referee Daniel Siebert caught the off-the-ball wrestling move Moore had applied on Väisänen to make space and disallowed the effort.
Wales were the more aggressive side in the opening exchanges. Mainly through the industrious James but also occasionally down the right flank with £100m-man Gareth Bale. Finland struggled to adjust their shape and play out from the back. Finding it difficult to play through a pact midfield Daniel O’shaughnesy heaved a speculative ball forward on 23 minutes, Joel Pohjanpalo cushioned a header down and Joni Kauko smashed a half-volley into the bottom corner from 20 yards. The referee needed to involve himself again though, calling Jolle rightly offside and disallowing the goal.
Wales continued to press down the flanks getting into dangerous positions but not really testing Hradecky. For their part Finland seemed disjointed Pukki and Pohjanpalo crowded out. The first half drew to a close with some tasty tackles flying around, but little goal mouth action.
Finland were out early for the second half running drills and raring to go. Gareth Bale did not re-emerge. The Huuhkajat hit the ground running on 49 minutes making their clearest chance of the game. Niskanen whipped over a corner to the back post Joel Pohjanpalo headed back across and with the goal gaping Leo Väisänen shinned his shot square against the post. The visitors began to get tetchy conceding numerous fouls and flying into tackles in the middle of the pitch. Finland resorted to hoisting long balls forward towards Pohjanpalo and breaking down the flanks with the pace of Niskanen, but in the final third the execution didn’t live up to the effort.
Fredrik Jensen and Thomas Lam replaced Kauko and Tim Sparv, in the middle as the home side tried to maintain a high press from the midfield five. Wales were happy to sit back and began finding holes once again in behind the wing backs. On 80 minutes, as they had a third, Daniel James caught Niskanen blind sided, reced down the wing, cut inside and slid the ball ball across the 6 yard box to Moore for a very simple finish. This was Wales’s first shot on target of the whole game. Pyry Soiri replaced Niskanen for the final 10 minutes and had a number of runs that beat his opponent and made it to the bi-line. By this time though the Welsh box has 8 red shirts in it and they saw out the remainder of the tie in relative comfort.
A 1-0 home defeat to Wales in the nations league is not a tragedy. On closer inspection however this Wales team was without most of it’s stars and had its talisman limp off at half time. Though the Finland squad was also not at full strength player for player the Huuhkajat were the better team. This was evident in one-on-one battles and in individual moments Glenn Kamara looked at ease in the middle of the pitch Joni Kauko was industrious even Niskanen himself had a great game by a winger’s standards less so by a full back’s. Frustratingly, so many good individual performances did not translate into a solid team performance which is rare to say about a Markku Kanerva side. Moreover the way in which Finland lost was eminently predictable. At the end of the day this match offered some smart new tactics, a dazzling new home kit and a gleaming new stadium, with little to fill them.