Wales climb into Nations League top tier with victory over 10-man Finland


Wales secured promotion to the top tier of the Nations League with a 3-1 win over 10-man Finland.

Harry Wilson and Daniel James scored either side of the interval after Jere Uronen was sent off early at the Cardiff City Stadium. The Norwich striker Teemu Pukki pulled one back for Finland in the second half but Wales made certain of victory when Kieffer Moore headed home from James’s cross with six minutes to play.

Finland needed to win to deprive Wales of top spot in Group B4, but they were forced to play with 10 men for 78 minutes afterUronen hauled down Wilson with the forward through on goal. Uronen had failed to deal with Danny Ward’s long goal-kick and Spanish referee Jesus Gil Manzano was quick to brandish his red card.

The result not only means Wales playing in League A in the next edition of the competition but also secures pole position for a spot in the play-offs for the 2022 World Cup, should they fail to reach the tournament through their qualification group.

“If you could bottle that feeling and see what you’ve seen in the changing rooms you’d make millions,” said caretaker manager Robert Page after the team scored more than once for the first time since qualifying for Euro 2020 last November. “We showed our intent from the first minute on the pitch and rose to the occasion. When you get both sides of the game right it shows what we’re capable of doing.”

“Work carries on as normal. We’ve got a bit of downtime now until we’re next together. But planning absolutely stays the same and we crack on as normal.”

In League A, Belgium beat Denmark 4-2 in Leuven to secure top spot and a place in the Nations League finals. Romelu Lukaku scored twice for the Red Devils after Youri Tielemans’ opener was cancelled out by Jonas Wind. Nacer Chadli’s late own-goal cut the deficit, but Kevin De Bruyne’s fine finish moments later sealed victory.

Italy also qualified for the finals with a 2-0 win over relegated Bosnia and Herzegovina. Goals from Andrea Belotti and Domenico Berardi in Sarajevo proved enough to hold off the Netherlands, who rallied from a goal down to win 2-1 in Poland thanks to Gini Wijnaldum’s late winner. France and Spain complete the line-up for the four-team finals, to be played in October next year.

The Republic of Ireland’s recent struggles continued with Stephen Kenny’s side stuttering to a 0-0 draw with Bulgaria in Dublin. The result means they retain their League B status at Bulgaria’s expense but leaves Kenny still waiting for his first win as manager after eight games in which his side have scored only one goal.

Northern Ireland’s disappointing campaign ended in frustrating fashion with Eric Bicfalvi cancelling out Liam Boyce’s 56th-minute goal in a 1-1 draw with Romania. Relegation into League C had already been confirmed for Ian Baraclough’s side after Romania were awarded a 3-0 win over Norway in Sunday’s cancelled game.

Norway’s makeshift side threatened to upset Austria and earn a miracle promotion despite a series of positive Covid-19 tests depleting their squad. Ghayas Zahid put them ahead in Vienna, but they needed another goal to replace Austria at the top and Adrian Grbic’s late leveller ended their hopes.

West Ham’s Tomas Soucek opened the scoring as the Czech Republic beat Slovakia 2-0, earning promotion after Scotland lost in Israel. In Group B3, Serbia avoiding relegation by thrashing Russia 5-0. Luka Jovic scored twice as the home side denied Russia promotion. Instead, Hungary followed up Euro 2020 qualification with a place in League A, sending Turkey down to League C with a 2-0 home win.

Armenia sealed a surprise promotion to League B with a 1-0 win over North Macedonia. The game was played in Nicosia due to political tensions in Armenia, and it was Cyprus-based defender Hovhannes Hambardzumyan who scored the winner. Slovenia edged out Greece in their group after a 0-0 draw in Athens.