Wales 1-1 Finland Report

The Welsh were banking on Gareth Bale’s return to their starting lineup for the first time this season to attract a decent crowd for Finland’s visit, but the Wales rugby team had also been in action across town and there’s only one winner when it comes to the public’s hard earned these days.

The few who did turn out saw a disappointing draw against opponents who are 19 places below Wales in the world rankings. The Welsh thought they had won it with a goal after 58 minutes, when Andy King headed home a cross from the left by Hal Robson-Kanu, but Riku Riski broke away to equalise in added time.

Finland’s manager, Mixu Paatelainen, of Bolton Wanderers fame, pointed out that Celtic’s Teemu Pukki had struck a post with a shot in the first half and said: “Overall, the draw was a fair result.” Chris Coleman was “gutted” and said: “We had to work hard to get our noses in front and we did that, but we slipped up at the end and it cost us what would have been a good win. In any game when you’re in front with two minutes to go, you expect to win. We need to be a bit more streetwise, a bit nasty.”

It was a poor match and the two principals involved in Wales’s goal speak volumes for the composition and quality of their team. Robson-Kanu and King both ply their trade in the Championship.

There was a time, not too long ago, when football rivalled the oval-ball game for popularity in Wales. In March 2000, 66,000 turned out to watch Mark Hughes’s team in the first football fixture at the Millennium Stadium. The opposition? Finland.

That halcyon interlude ended with the passing of the late, lamented Gary Speed, under whose uplifting management Wales climbed Fifa’s world rankings, from 117th to 45th, on the back of four wins in five games, losing only to England, 1-0.

The new dawn was a false one. Speed died two years ago, almost to the day, since when his successor, Coleman, has presided over a return to mediocrity. The attempt to qualify for next year’s World Cup was a dismal failure, in the context of which Coleman was widely expected to be sacked – but he signed a new two-year contract on Friday. One local columnist described this as a “marriage of convenience” and was presumably thinking of a place in Brazil going down the toilet.

Coleman and other incorrigible optimists, including Craig Bellamy, have been talking up this current Welsh squad as potentially the best since John Charles, Cliff Jones and company gave a young Pelé’s Brazil a run for their money at the 1958 World Cup, but the appraisal does not stand up to serious scrutiny.

Coleman’s class of 2013 does possess two world-class players in Aaron Ramsey, who was missing with flu on Saturday, and Bale, but the supporting cast is pretty ordinary. Of the 21 on duty for the Finland friendly, seven were from the Championship and six from League One.

Those who have been around long enough to address such things with a meaningful perspective are likely to conclude that Terry Yorath’s team that was one game away from getting to the 1994 World Cup were clearly superior. What would Coleman give for Southall, Ratcliffe, Speed, Giggs, Saunders, Rush and Hughes in the same 11? Six of those seven were league champions at one time or another. None of the current squad has that honour.

Given its enlarged format, Wales may qualify for Euro 2016: at present, they are ranked 25th in Europe and 24 teams will go to the finals. But a “golden generation”? Are you sure?

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