Wales keep an eye on Finland as a Nation Awaits


As the rest of the UK enjoyed Scottish European Qualification success, South Wales based football writer David Collins, sat back, knowing that Wales had already qualified for the 2021 Euros.

Further, the Welsh also faced two simple home ties to ensure progress in the Nations League. Success awaited.

Nothing ever really goes to according to plan though does it, as David describes his “international debut” as a Prost reporter.

“A Nation Awaits”

Ryan Giggs’ appointment as manager of the Welsh national team in 2018 had not met with universal approval.

Many followers recalled his record of missing 18 consecutive friendly appearances for the Red Dragons. To some fans, this smacked of poor commitment. Giggs also faced the challenge of moving Wales on from the halcyon days of 2016, when the Golden Generation finally brought glory to the Land of Song, reaching the semi finals of the Euros. A tough act to follow.

To his credit, Giggs approached the task in his own way.

Ageing stars such as Ashley Williams and Chris Gunter, were eased aside in favour of promising youngsters. They joined household names such as Bale and Ramsey, to give new hope to a nation.

Kieffer Moore fired Wales to Euro qualification, whilst an uninspiring but effective Nations League campaign had seen them grind out results. Winning their group would earn Wales promotion to the Nations League’s top tier and could lead to a place in the 2022 World Cup qualifying play-offs. On 15 November, Wales simply had to better Finland’s result against Bulgaria. Even if they didn’t, we still only had to beat Finland in our next game. A Nation Awaited.

But this was Wales.

The football fates do not provide Wales with an easy life. Giggs had temporarily stood aside to deal with charges of assault on his girlfriend as the exciting times faced a blip. “In Giggs We Trust” was replaced by “Robert who?” as Llwynypia-born Robert Page had taken temporary charge.

Gareth Bale allegedly watched the US Masters on his iPad while a distinctively unrecognisable Wales team faced the USA in Swansea. Page called on players from Doncaster Rovers, Schalke 04 and Dunfermline. It ended 0-0.

Sunday evening brought misty, damp skies to the Cardiff City Stadium as Wales faced familiar foes in the Republic of Ireland.

Ten changes from the USA game saw stars from Spurs and Man United replace those of Newport and Charlton. Pre-recorded anthems boomed across empty stands. Flags & banners left on deserted seats, by a Zombie Nation.

The game started brightly. Dan James was busy, shoulders hunched in an exciting looking forward line alongside Bale and Brooks. Wales did their best to stroke it about. Brady was having none of this mind, and narrowly curled one over on 17 minutes. “End to End” would be stretching it but it was certainly an open game. Bale brought “ooohs” from the press box with a typical free kick from…..ooooh, 30 yards?

Elsewhere, Finland were winning.

The complex machinations of the Nations League meant that this was not good for Wales. Wales had yet to concede a goal but the fates were not helping, as feared. Bale squeezed in a scruffy shot as the second half opened. Scruffy. With two FF’s.

The game degenerated from the breezy play of the first half. Wales’ reply was to bring on Cardiff City striker Kieffer Moore. He is 6’5”. His first contribution was to pick up a yellow card for diving. His second though, was to cause enough airborne disquiet in the Irish defence to enable Bale to head back across goal for Brooks to nod home.

Irish changes followed, as the game became even less of a spectacle. Finland were still winning. It was heading for a showdown with Finland on Wednesday. A late red card for Hendrick of Ireland probably clinched it for Wales.

From my seat in the deserted stands, you could hear every word from the field as Danny Ward in the Welsh goal shouted instructions around the whole arena. This is not something you are privilege to in fuller stadiums.

The unique experience cranked itself up at the final whistle. The press seats exploded into life, as match reports were filled and pitch side interviews took place with goal scorer Brooks, Captain Bale and Ben Davies.

Finland had won. The fates had seen to that. An older acquaintance works behind the scenes at the stadium. He is fairly senior. He is also a fan. By the time I arrived home, he had already posted to Social Media. “Ah well, Finland it is then?” he ruefully announced.

Finland it is.

With two FF’s.

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