KEIR RADNEDGE in CARDIFF —- Just like Groundhog Day: Wales stand once more on the international brink. After all the excitement of successive Euro and World Cup campaigns they find themselves one match away from the finals of UEFA Euro 2024.

Manager Robert Page and his men, having sneaked into the playoffs, lit a clear red shaft of light in that muddling world by seeing off Finland 4-1 to claim a showdown with Poland, simultaneously demolishing Estonia 5-1, back in Cardiff on Tuesday. All or nothing.

Home happiness generated by goals from David Brooks, Neco Williams, Brennan Johnson and substitute Daniel James was only briefly dimmed by Teemu Pukki just before halftime.

Winning words from Wales captain Ben Davies

Wales are chasing a third successive appearance at the finals after reaching the last four in 2016 and then the Round of 16 at Euro 2020. They had missed out on direct entry after finishing third in qualifying Group D behind Turkey and Croatia. Yet the playoffs beckoned because they had finished fourth in Group A4 of the UEFA Nations League.

Finland had made their debut on the major international stage at the group stage of Euro 2020 but there was to be no repeat. They created several opportunities in the first half but that was only after falling behind. The Finns, also Nations League lucky losers, were always chasing the game and never threatened seriously to catch up with it.

Early lead

Wales owed victory to a solid all-round team performance. The energetic Harry Wilson was outstanding for an hour before even his legs began to tire but a possibly unsung hero’s role was played by Ethan Ampadu, anchoring midfield impressively on his 50th appearance for his country.

Page enjoyed the delight of seeing his team hungrily grab a fourth-minute lead. Wilson found a gap through the centre and saw his shot parried by Finland captain Lukas Hradecky only for Brooks to follow up with an acrobatic volley.

For the Finns that was the worst possible start but they had the opportunity to level in the 11th minute.

Wales’ defenders took their eyes off nimble Daniel Hakans in half-clearing a left-wing cross only for the Valerenga forward to volley high over a gaping goal. Pukki should have capitalised more efficiently minutes later on freedom of his own but failed to test Danny Ward with his tame shot.

Wales lost their way for a while but rode their fortune and their lead and extended it in the 38th minute. Johnson was tripped on the edge of the penalty box and Williams thumped Wilson’s touched free kick beyond Hradecky.

Defensive slip

Happily clear, Wales relaxed with fatal consequences just before the interval. Defensive discipline went missing as Pukki cut in from the right, latched on to a delicate touch from Joel Pohjanpalo and pushed the ball wide of keeper Danny Ward with all the comfortable certainty of a record marksman.

Page doubtless had some sharp words for his men at halftime and they answered in perfect style by extending their lead only a minute after the restart. Ampadu headed a free kick square and Robbie James miscued his shot but Johnson was perfectly placed at the opposite post to tap home.

Tottenham could have had a second Welsh goal to celebrate but Romanian referee took a screen view on VAR advice to rule out a headed effort by captain Ben Davies from a left-wing corner.

Not that it mattered. Substitute Daniel James ran clear for an indisputable fourth with four minutes remaining after stealing the ball off central defender Miro Tenho.

Page’s plan

Page, looking forward to the Poland showdown, said: “We’re up against a tough team, we’ll respect them and we’ll have a plan ready, but it is about our level of performance. When we play like we did against Croatia and Turkey here then the result takes care of itself.

“It is a big ask for the lads to go again but there is no more motivation needed than the Euro in Germany. We’ve been there, we’ve picked the hotel, we’ve got the training ground, we’re ready to go. We’ve just got one more game to get across the line.”

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