Experience triumphed over youth as the Finnish squad beat Wales 2-0 with a balanced performance. Jonatan Johansson, 33, and Shefki Kuqi, 32, provided the goals but it was Jari Litmanen, the former Ajax legend, who orchestrated Finland’s comfortable victory at the Millennium Stadium.
At 38, Litmanen is still capable of dominating a match against a team of Wales’ quality. ‘Litti’ might have the legs of a 72-year old but his sharp intelligence can still cut through any defence. A testimonial of this was his defence splitting pass that released Johansson to slot in the first goal of the match in the 43rd minute. By constantly making himself available, never loosing possession, always knowing exactly where to deliver the pass and setting the pace for the Finnish attacks, Litmanen pulled the strings in midfield.
The Wales coach John Toshack had a point in saying that they perhaps didn’t deserve to go down just before half-time as Wales was perhaps slightly more in control. After the goal, however, Finland took the initiative and Mikael Forssell missed a perfect chance to put in the second just before half time. The second half then went according to plan for Finland who always looked more dangerous hitting Wales on the break. The Finnish defensive unit actively denied all space in midfield, leaving Craig Bellamy (who again showed what a perfect role model and a nice guy he is with his post-match whimpering) stranded among the convincing Finnish back four (Kallio, Hyypiä, Tihinen, Pasanen). Finland had plenty of chances to seal the match but had to wait until the 92nd minute for the second goal. Having had a disappointing first half, Roman Eremenko started shoving his talent as the second half progressed and set up the second goal with a perfectly weighted pass for Kuqi who, to the amazement of all, curled in a perfect finish.
The performance from the Finnish team was convincing and for the first time in the Baxter era his game plan worked close to perfection. However, it still remains to be seen whether the team can win against the very top teams. We’ll get the answer in two months time when Finland entertain Russia at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki. But in the meantime, we should just rejoice in the fact that the hunt for the World Cup spot is still on.