Finland – Wales: Hard fought battle settled after set-piece goal
The summer break had ended and World Cup qualification would finally resume. Finland and Wales would by the end of the evening come level with the Dutch and the West Germans on matches played, as they would come head to head in the Finnish capital. This was Finland’s final home game of the qualifiers, and until now they had failed to register goals as well as points, having lost 4-0 to West Germany and 1-0 to the Netherlands. Wales, on the other hand, had only travelled once so far: That opening day defeat in Amsterdam courtesy of Gullit’s late goal, and subsequently they’d been disappointed not to have taken both points from their home clash against the Finns, as Saunders had seen his second half penalty saved by ‘keeper Huttunen. The match seemed to be Finland’s one and only opportunity to overtake Wales in the table, as they’d hardly be expected to get much from their upcoming journeys to West Germany and the Netherlands.
Finland team news
Since losing 1-0 at home to the Netherlands on May 31, Finland had played one friendly, namely the 2-2 home draw with a somewhat makeshift Yugoslavian team. Two goals against the Group 5 leaders had nevertheless given Vakkila and his troops cause for optimism ahead of this clash against the Welsh, which was, in practice, the decider for who would finish third and fourth respectively. Against the Dutch, Finland had conceded late to end up with an expected defeat.
They had on that occasion welcomed central defender Heikkinen in their starting eleven, as well as seasoned midfielder Ikäläinen, who was back in the mix having not been selected for the opening two qualifying matches. The presence of the latter had seemed to boost a midfield which had so far looked a bit on the thin side.
Experienced defender Lahtinen had been relegated to the subs’ bench against the Dutch, but he was reinstalled against Wales, this time for the left-back position, with Kanerva dropped. Attacking midfielder cum forward Hjelm was out with an inflamation in his foot, and so Tarkkio, who had started and scored against Yugoslavia, would take Hjelm’s place.
Tarkkio, another powerful figure, was capable of playing wide left as well as up top, just like the man he filled in for, and with Paatelainen back in the squad after missing out against the Yugoslavs, the Sweden based player would operate to the left in midfield. Other than that, they were unchanged.
Wales team news
The most remarkable so far about the Welsh qualifying campaign had been their switch from 4-4-2 to an un-British 3-4-3, a formation which seemed to be on the up on the continent around this time. They had done this to make space for all three of their attacking stars in their natural positions, even if Saunders had performed very well in a wide right role at home to Finland. The formational switch had not been an immediate success in terms of goals (0-2 v Sweden in a friendly, as well as the 0-0 against West Germany), but it would also allow them to possibly be a tad more direct, as there were now three outlets up front to aim at from the back.
In midfield, the influental Horne would be a big miss; he was out through suspension. Horne had bossed the park against the mighty West Germans, though picked up a late and deserved yellow card in that game. Back into the side came Bradford midfielder Davies, who had done reasonably well in the 1-0 opening day defeat away to the Netherlands, but who had since then been out of the squad. Manager Yorath knew Davies well from club level with Swansea.
Here, the former Manchester United youth would be a direct replacement for Horne, alongside strong runner Williams in the centre of the pitch. This was indeed the only, and enforced, change that Wales had made since last time around. Unlike the hosts, they had not had a friendly to prepare for this qualifier.
On the bench sat, among others, Birmingham goalkeeper Thomas, who had only once played for the national team. He had indeed won his only cap against today’s opponents, which was in ’86, in the previous qualification. He was in the squad since Tony Norman (regarded as the regular deputy for Southall) and Rhys Wilmot both were injured. Wilmot, on loan at Plymouth Argyle, had originally been a part of the squad, but had to withdraw, with Thomas being his replacement. There was also a new face in Gavin Maguire, who only had been given a late call-up to the team.
Among players ruled out with injury was Colin Pascoe.
Helsinki had earlier welcomed both West Germany and the Netherlands with solid amounts of rain. However, on this early autumn evening, downpour had been replaced by a relatively strong wind from one end of the pitch to the other. The visitors had won the toss of the coin, and so had decided to play with the wind behind them for the opening period. The pitch looked fine, at least from a distance. As for the turn-out, the Finnish fans had hardly come in numbers. Despite the Welsh boasting players from the English leagues, which were regularly being shown live on TV throughout the Nordic countries during weekends, only 7,5k had been lured away from the comfort of their television sets for this one.
Respected 45 year old East German Siegfried Kirschen, who had officiated both in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico and the 1988 European Championships, and a favourite to win a refereeing berth for the upcoming World Cup as well, would make his 19th international appearance. This was the second time he featured in Helsinki, having been the man in black for Finland’s 1-1 draw with England in the qualification for ’86. It was his third match in charge with Wales one of the participating teams. He had previously overseen two home qualifying 1-0 wins for them, ahead of France ’84 and prior to West Germany ’88, against Bulgaria and Denmark respectively.
This was the sixth ever meeting between the two countries, and they had all been qualifying fixtures. The first two had taken place back in 1971, in qualification for the 1972 European Championships, both ending with Welsh wins. The most recent head to heads had come in the previous qualification, the one ahead of the 1988 European Championships in West Germany. Wales had won comprehensively on home soil (4-0), and the meeting in Helsinki had ended 1-1. The earlier meeting in these qualifiers had been Finlands only goals and point on Welsh territory.
|1 Kari Laukkanen||25||Stuttgarter Kickers|
|2 Aki Lahtinen||30||OTP Oulu|
|3 Ari Heikkinen||25||TPS Turku|
|4 Jari Europaeus (c)||65′||26||RoPS|
|5 Erik Holmgren||24||GAIS|
|6 Kimmo Tarkkio||23||Hammarby|
|7 Kari Ukkonen||sub 83′||28||Anderlecht|
|8 Jukka Ikäläinen||32||Kiruna|
|9 Mika-Matti Paatelainen||sub 65′||22||Dundee United|
|10 Mika Lipponen||25||Twente|
|11 Marko Myyry||21||Lokeren|
|12 Olavi Huttunen||29||Haka Valkeakoski|
|13 Erkka Petäjä||25||Östers|
|14 Pasi Tauriainen||on 83′||24||RoPS|
|15 Markus Törnvall||on 65′||24||Norrköping|
|16 Markku Kanerva||25||HJK Helsinki|
|1 Neville Southall||30||Everton|
|2 Clayton Blackmore||24||Manchester United|
|3 Dave Phillips||26||Norwich|
|4 Peter Nicholas||sub 89′||29||Chelsea|
|5 Mark Aizlewood||29||Bradford|
|6 Kevin Ratcliffe (c)||28||Everton|
|7 Dean Saunders||25||Derby|
|8 Geraint Williams||sub 81′||27||Derby|
|9 Ian Rush||71′||27||Liverpool|
|10 Mark Hughes||53′||25||Manchester United|
|11 Alan Davies||26||Bradford|
|12 Martin Thomas||29||Birmingham|
|13 Kenny Jackett||27||Watford|
|14 Gavin Maguire||on 89′||21||Portsmouth|
|15 Mark Bowen||on 81′||25||Norwich|
|16 Malcolm Allen||22||Norwich|
Their back four has to battle with no less than three forwards, and due to this, left-back Lahtinen, a central defender by trade, is more narrow than a traditional left-back, operating closer to the two central defenders, of which, as typically, Europaeus is the spare man. Heikkinen is usually looking to battle it out with Hughes in the air. The libero will be seen in confrontation with Rush at times. Neither defender is particularly contributive inside the opposition’s half. Ikäläinen is the defensive midfielder, allowing playmaker Ukkonen a greater focus on attacking duties. Myyry is usually found along his right hand side, whereas the opposite flank, Tarkkio, is less tied to just one position: He often pops across to the right, and he thrives with the ball at his feet, making strong bursts down either flank. Up top, Lipponen is the more agile of the two, usually operating towards the right of centre, with Paatelainen opposite of him. The latter is usually the one that the Finns look for if they direct high balls towards the front.
Both teams will be using their full quota of substitutes. Finland need to make their first change due to an injury to Paatelainen. He is replaced by Törnvall, who slots into centre midfield. There is a reshuffle, and this includes Ukkonen moving out to the left in midfield, with Tarkkio going up front to accompany Lipponen. The later, second substitute is Tauriainen, who comes on for Ukkonen, and immediately takes his position as the left-sided midfielder for the remaining minutes.
Ratcliffe again is the spare man at the heart of the defence, rarely allowing himself to move into opposition territory. Ahead of him, Aizlewood is definitely keeping a close eye on Paatelainen, something which makes it look like the left-footed defender is operating as the right-sided centre-back. Nicholas is looking after Lipponen, seeing him typically positioned ahead and to the left of sweeper Ratcliffe. This positioning of Aizlewood and Nicholas is contrary to what had been seen against West Germany in Wales’ previous game. The two wing-backs are both prone to assisting inside the Finnish half, though they also need to keep a watchful eye on each their flank player.
The Welsh central midfield is hardly their greatest asset. They have in the tireless Williams someone who is trying to stick close to the home side’s playmaker (Ukkonen), whereas Davies is supposedly the creative outlet, clearly with fewer defensive obligations. Among their front three, Rush and Hughes are both found in more traditional centre-forward roles, whereas third striker Saunders is constantly on the move, usually found towards either flank, but possibly more towards the left than right.
The first major Welsh change of the second half is a formational switch: In search for an equalizer, Yorath abandons the system with three central defenders as he moves Nicholas into midfield. This sees Ratcliffe and Aizlewood as the sole two central defenders, with the skipper as the right-sided of the two. The new formation is 4-3-3, and the idea may have been to release Davies even higher into the pitch, as well as establishing a firmer grip in the midfield areas, as Wales were now three v two in the centre of the park.
When Yorath decides to change in personnel, he withdraws Williams for full-back Bowen. This takes Blackmore from right wing-back into a midfield role, and now it appears that Nicholas is in the holding role, with Davies (left) and Blackmore ahead of him. Saunders is more towards the right in this final quarter of the game. The forward had been switching sides until then, but had predominantly kept himself towards the left. The final substitution comes only a couple of minutes from time, when Maguire, a debutant, is a straight swap for Nicholas. However, as one could expect on 89 minutes, formations are more loose; Wales are desperately chasing the goal which will give them a point.
Kick-off, proceeded by the home side’s midfield playmaker Ukkonen and forward Lipponen, marks the start of the remaining few qualifiers of Group 4. Both of these know that they are out of contention for a place in next year’s World Cup, despite theory indicating that the Welsh might still stand a chance should they win their remaining three. Reality, however, was telling us that the two group giants were battling it out for berths one and two. With both Finland and Wales facing the other two in heavy fixtures later in the year, at least they would be looking to get something from this clash, with Finland eyeing a fine scalp along the way in the battle for finishing third in the pool.
Finland are a powerful, physical team, equipped with a lot of players of fine work rate and aerial capability. So far, they had been unable to score in either of their home matches, but surely, Wales would prove a more manageable task than West Germany and the Netherlands. Despite the visitors boasting all their fine attacking three in Saunders, Hughes and Rush, the hosts did not seem to possess an exaggerated amount of respect for their opponents. Right from the very first moments, they will look to take the game to Wales. And they do it through the means of quick balls in the forward direction in order to challenge the Welsh backline.
The match will contain two sides who are both bent on finding the quickest route towards goal; there’s little seen of midfield dallying on the ball. However, in midfield, the home side are again sporting Belgium based playmaker Ukkonen, who so far in the qualifiers had had a muted existence. Manager Vakkila’s tactics had been unable to make advantage of Ukkonen’s natural ability: As a playmaker, he was fine in distribution from his delicate left foot. However, the Finns had had a great tendency to surpass their midfield, opting instead lofted balls towards their forward two. Their tactics had proved dramatically insufficient during the opening half against the Netherlands in their last qualifying outing, where they had often refrained from booting the ball forward in the strikers, though they had improved in the final 45 back then, being able to assert some pressure on their opponents after the break. Since, they had managed a very creditable 2-2 draw at home to Group 5 leaders Yugoslavia as the last line of preparation for the Wales tie. Finland were with their tails up early doors, able to pin the visitors back for spells of the opening 45 minutes in Helsinki. This despite a seemingly strong wind initially favouring the Welsh since kick-off.
The long awaited rise of Kari Ukkonen
Ukkonen had been mentioned. He had so far come across as someone who had been reluctant in battle, apparently protecting his somewhat slender frame. He was of good size, as most Finns (apart from the obvious exception in wide man Myyry), but at times out of sorts in the centre due to the nature of their tactics. At times, it had been difficult to spot a common thread in the Finnish operations, though this time they had clearly set their mark on being decisive. Even if Ukkonen was not a prominent figure in the early stages, he did show a fine level of confidence whenever he was fed the ball. Ukkonen would be seen inside or ahead of the centre circle, leaving the more defensive central midfield tasks to the fine battling character of Ikäläinen, but on this occasion the Anderlecht ace was also not shirking away from any challenge. There seemed to be a greater aura of assuredness about him than previously during these qualifiers.
Poor Welsh midfield
Truth be told, this was no great Welsh central midfield. They had at times bossed the centre of the park when they had hosted the West Germans at the start of the summer, but that had predominantly been through Horne, a vastly superior player to Davies, who was making his second appearance so far in this qualification here. Horne had seen yellow, and deservedly so, late on against West Germany, his second of the qualification, and was so ruled out from participation against the Finns. How they were missing his great battling abilities! You’d have thought that Williams could compensate somewhat for the absence of Horne, but there simply was no replacement for the Southampton star on the form that he had shown last time around. Wales were also surpassing their midfield to a great extent, wishing to shift the ball in the direction of their forward three at any given opportunity, and so, Davies was never allowed time to feel part of the game. He was someone who thrived on the ball rather than giving chase, and he was certainly not a typical battler. Williams next to him was tenacious and industrious, but he too was no player you’d first and foremost expect to make crunching tackles in the Horne mould. In order to prevent Ukkonen from having a big say in directing the home side’s play, this is what the visitors would’ve needed.
Resolute Finland defence
Since that 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Dutch, Vakkila had brought back old war horse Lahtinen. This had happened at the expence of left-back Kanerva, who was by no means a bad player, but Lahtinen, with years of experience from English top flight football with Notts County behind him, knew how to deal with British players. It was certainly no fluke that he had been drafted back into the side, even if he was a centre-back by nature, and not a full-back. Lahtinen’s interpretation of the left-sided defender’s role was also not a traditional one, as he was seemingly equipped with a desire to co-exist with the two central defenders, where relative newcomer Heikkinen was the one closest to him. Combined, the four Finland defenders would put their bodies on the line, never allowing the Wales forwards time and space, knowing well what a fearsome trio Saunders, Rush and Hughes potentially were.
It was the two central defenders, libero Europaeus and his partner Heikkinen, who first and foremost were up against Rush and Hughes, as the Welsh #9 and #10 were more traditional centre-forwards. Saunders was the more dynamic one: Nominally featuring to the left of the three-pronged attack, but with license to roam anywhere he would prefer in order to create havoc in the home side’s backline. At times, this arsenal of forward talent had worked well to unsettling the strong West German defence in Cardiff despite firing a blank, but here they were rarely coherent as a unit. Davies was the midfielder supposed to provide them with ammunition, but as the Bradford player was typically on the side of events, the frontmen were often left to carving out openings on their own.
Finland had at times in these two’s first encounter, in Swansea, shown what they were about, which was hard labour. On that occasion, today’s hosts had been unable to utilize much to their advantage the talent of Ukkonen, despite him scoring a fine opening goal directly from an early free-kick. Whenever the home side were in possession in midfield, Ukkonen was able to pick a team mate with a well thought out pass, showcasing his worth on several occasions. And on percepting that they actually possessed a player of such calibre within their ranks, Finland were gaining the upper hand in the game. Yes, they would strike it long from the back, either through Europaeus or Lahtinen, towards the front two, but also they would allow Ukkonen to use his creativity to try and set up any player in a more advanced position. The forward pairing were being marshalled by each their opponent: Lipponen, whose appearance against the Netherlands had left a lot to be desired, was up against Nicholas, whereas Paatelainen, who early in the qualification had shown some promise, and indeed scored Finland’s second goal in the opposite fixture, was trying to wrestle free from Aizlewood’s shackles. Man-marking was probably not in either Wales defender’s nature, but they set about their tasks optimistically. And in particular Aizlewood looked determined not to let his opponent get any time to prove his directness.
Paatelainen away from attention
The first chance fell to the home side, when Lipponen had managed to find space in behind the Welsh defence, where Nicholas had momentarily switched off. Operating as the right-sided of the two forwards, Lipponen swung a cross over for his strike partner, who had also got away from his man, looking to make himself available on the far post, where he saw Blackmore as an easier opponent to defeat in the air than his marker Aizlewood. The Wales full-back stood no chance as Paatelainen rose to connect with Lipponen’s fine cross, and from five yards out he brought Southall into making an acrobatic left-handed save, with the ball eventually being cleared away. The big Everton stopper again showed his agility on the goal line, diverting danger when the home side so easily could have taken the lead. Granted, Paatelainen’s header had not been placed far enough wide, so despite Blackmore being unable to cope with the Dundee United ace in the air, the full-back had disturbed him sufficiently for Paatelainen not being able to direct his header where he had wanted it.
Ratcliffe’s role at the heart of Wales’ defence was a sweeping one. As has been established, it was Nicholas and Aizlewood who were the two players most frequently being sent into combat. Against the West Germans, there had been a clear order between the two man-markers, with Nicholas typically operating against Riedle in something of a right-sided position, with the left-footed Aizlewood up against Völler to the left of Ratcliffe. Here, as both players had obviously been told whom to man-mark prior to the game, Nicholas, as right-footed as Aizlewood was in preference of his left, stood to the left of his captain; Aizlewood was between Ratcliffe and Blackmore. Whenever Wales were in possession at the back, this did seem to cause less fluency, and neither Nicholas nor Aizlewood were frequently used in aiming balls in the forward direction. Ratcliffe was a player relying heavily on his lightning quick speed, though operating in the deeper defender’s role, this feature was rarely called upon. Having seemed comfortable in their last outing, Ratcliffe was not equally convincing in Helsinki, and perhaps surprisingly, it seemed to be Lipponen of the two home forwards causing the most stir with his movement. A typical tank centre like Paatelainen the Welsh defenders had a lot of practice in mastering. And this despite Paatelainen’s ability to sniff an opportunity, like when he had looked to prey on Lipponen’s cross ten minutes in.
In addition to someone with composure in the centre of midfield, something which the Finns had been lacking so far in the qualification had been a player with pace able to take on a man and deliever a telling cross. Since the encounter with the Dutch, they had brought wide man Tarkkio into the team, replacing the often under-performing Hjelm as the wide left option. Whereas Hjelm clearly was a more typical forward than winger, the opposite appeared to be the case with Tarkkio, whose bustling appearance contributed to giving Blackmore all sorts of trouble. An ever-present so far in Vakkila’s select had been right-sided midfielder Myyry, a workmanlike performer whose strongest ability was not necessarily taking on a man and driving forward ball at feet. This, however, was an asset of Tarkkio’s. He played with a lot of energy, and when fed the ball along the left, he would set his sight on delievering a ball in from the wide position. His runs were powerful, and Blackmore rarely seemed alert to the danger, thus giving Tarkkio an unprecedented amount of space. The winger did manage to put crosses in during the opening half, though mostly the Welsh defenders were winning the aerial challenges inside their own penalty area. Not hesitant even to coming across to the opposite flank, Tarkkio would even be seen taking Phillips on, and he contributed in a greater sense than Hjelm had been able to from this same position. Tarkkio was clearly having a positive influence on the Finnish line-up, and so Hjelm’s inflamation to keep him out of the match day squad seemed to have come as something of a blessing in disguise for the hosts.
The home side are generally keen on finishing their attacks rather than allowing for their opponents to break. On set-pieces in or around the centre circle, they aim balls high into the area for any player to challenge a Welshman, and though the visitors will often win aerial challenges inside their own box, it does happen that second balls end up with a player in blue and white. Ukkonen had had a wild early effort clearing the bar, and 20 minutes out, Tarkkio will seize on a similar shooting opportunity from just outside the penalty area, also seeing his shot rise over Southall’s goal, with the ‘keeper monitoring the flight of the ball effortlessly.
Feeble Blackmore effort
Less than a minute after Tarkkio’s shot, the next shooting chance goes to the visitors, when Blackmore, the right-sided option in the Welsh select, can pounce on a headed clearance from the Finnish defence. Neither of the away team’s wide players have featured prominently thus far, much due to the direct nature of the hosts, keeping both said Blackmore and his counterpart Phillips pegged back inside their own half. With so little happening for the visitors in the centre of the park, bringing either of their wide players into action appears to be essential to Wales causing Finland trouble. No crosses from either flank has so far been swung in, and with both Rush and Hughes seemingly static until now, the four man in the home side’s rear line, as well as defensive midfielder Ikäläinen, were having a fairly comfortable afternoon in dealing with the attacking efforts from Wales. When Heikkinen stoops low to clear a ball fom inside the area with his head, Blackmore seizes on the opportunity to shoot more than 25 yards out from a central position. His effort’s a wild one, clearing the crossbar over Laukkanen by some distance. Usually operating with a measured foot, this was disappointing from the Manchester United utility man.
Welsh strikers’ struggle
It is difficult to say why neither of the two most experienced Wales forwards were willing to make strong runs off the ball in order to make themselves available for their defenders. Saunders did have this desire, and he was soon left, soon right, looking to be an outlet for either team mate to search out with balls from the back. However, Finland were playing a rough game, never denouncing an inch inside their own half, always giving their all against any opponent. Rush had felt the full brunt of a Holmgren challenge in his back early on, a high knee, and this could have contributed to the Liverpool forward feeling uneasy whenever the ball came in his direction. He did rarely play with a spring in his step, did Rush, and the game would sum up his entire qualification campaign so far. Not that Hughes was much better, also being given a harsh working climate by the uncompromising Heikkinen. Hughes was known as someone who would not shirk away from any duty or battle, but the impressive Finland defence stood firm against the challenge. With the Welsh players only early in their domestic season, as opposed to most of Finland’s men, who were playing by the calendar year, they had yet to reach top form. Saunders became too cut off in his almost sole efforts to make an impression, and so proved no great danger to the hosts during the opening period. It will indeed be Rush to arrive at their best opportunity, when he fired a left-footed effort at goal from just over 20 yards, a shot Laukkanen was well equal to, parrying low down to his right.
At half-time, there is no score in a match which at times has been frantic, but which also sees little in terms of quality from either side. And despite playing into the wind, it has been the hosts who have had the biggest say on proceedings, using intimidating tactics to unsettle their opponents. What would the final 45 have in store?
There had not been changes in personnel for either team, both reappearing as they had been seen during the opening half. The hosts would play out the second half with the wind at their back, though had there perhaps been a slight directional change to the gales? The flag on the halfway line seemed to indicate wind even across the pitch now, and not just in the length direction. No matter what, it was the visitors who would recommence the game, as their supposedly talismanic duo of Hughes and Rush kicked the second half off.
The most recent arrival in the Finnish line-up had been mentioned as having a fine first half: Tarkkio was no shy character who would go hiding, and he was clearly keen on making an impression down either flank. As opposed to the far more static Hjelm, who had often been seen as Finland’s wide left player in the qualification hitherto, Tarkkio would frequently come across to the right from his left-sided position, looking to take on even Phillips. His bursts on the ball were powerful and energetic, and he had great desire about him. His skill levels might not have been of top continental standards, but will alone brought him forward. Within two and a half minute of the restart, he made one such foray along the right, leaving Phillips for dead and putting a fine cross in with his weaker right foot. The ball in had, however, been played slightly too close to goal for Lipponen to reach with his head, and so the threat had evaporated. But it was yet another warning for the visitors, who had not enjoyed a great opening period. Finland’s mood had not deteriorated since the interval.
Davies not up to the task
The Wales forward line had not lead an easy life so far, and fact was that two and a half matches into their co-existence, they had yet to deliever a goal in country colours (0-2 v Sweden, 0-0 v West Germany). Despite the endeavour of Hughes, who did seem more up for the game than Rush, they had not produced much in terms of quality yet, apart from that one rare moment from Rush, who had challenged Laukkanen from distance in the opening half. Perhaps were the rest of the team relying too much on their front three to alone produce enough to worry the opponent, but even they were unable to cause much danger without quality in distribution from midfield. And the Wales midfielders were so far inferior to Finland’s. Even Blackmore and Phillips would still struggle to come high enough up in the pitch to put crosses in for the front players. Davies in the advanced midfield position was a disaster so far, and the void that Horne had left behind was alarmingly huge. A few minutes after the restart, Hughes is able to win in the air after a long, lofted pass from Ratcliffe, and when heading down for the agile Saunders, the Derby striker hits an opportunistic half volley more than 25 yards out. It is not giving Laukkanen nightmares as it drifts carelessly wide of goal. The ‘keeper, on restarting, is seen with a foot problem, something which will make Lahtinen assist him for goal kicks for the remainder of the match.
With just under six minutes of the second half played, we have a breakthrough, and it is no great surprise that it is the hosts taking the lead. Not that Finland had been able to carve out plenty of dangerous openings in front of Southall, with the exception of Paatelainen’s header on the far post early in the second half, but they will win a right wing corner when Ikäläinen is seen surprisingly high up in the pitch in the right hand channel. He attempts to put a ball into the area, but it comes off Phillips for the flag kick. Ukkonen, the home side’s most precise player in distribution so far, swings it in with his left foot, and somehow the visitors have put Davies on striker Lipponen. Despite the blonde striker’s unorthodox running and great levels of optimism, he had not had a lot of success against Nicholas so far, so why the centre-back had left it to advanced midfielder Davies to mark Lipponen for this set-piece will forever remain a question.
Fact is that when the ball came to him, just beyond the centre of the six yard area, Lipponen rose without much challenge from the Bradford man and steered the ball into the net for the fixture’s opening goal. Southall had been caught in no man’s land, and Blackmore on the line was unable to prevent it from going in above his head. This was a scoreline which would put a smile on the faces of the hosts, as well as finally signal an end to Welsh qualifying hopes.
So far, with just short of ten minutes gone in the second half, the game had been a hard but fair contest. Perhaps some of the Welsh attacking players would not entirely agree, as the Finland back four had been seen committing fouls during the opening half, and indeed, Holmgren had delievered a high rise knee into the back of Rush. Hughes will be the first player to pick up a yellow card, as he retaliates, even if it is only through a chest on chest incident, after a challenge by Lahtinen. The booking’s a harsh one, and it will hardly promote Hughes into a player of greater appreciation for the East German referee. Mr Kirschen has so far certainly not been giving the Welsh forwards much aid in their plight, yet this incident with Hughes could be interpreted as the striker’s own fault: Had he not retaliated, even if it seemed harmless enough and something which should’ve been tolerated in the heat of the game, he would not have been cautioned.
Holmgren’s again impressive
One player who is the epitome of Finnish resistance, is right-back Holmgren. He had featured as a central midfielder last time these two had clashed, but he had since lost this spot to the returning Ikäläinen. Holmgren had not lost the spot alongside Ukkonen because of poor form, and the fact that Vakkila kept him in the starting eleven by shifting him into the right-back position, showed the manager’s appreciation for him. Holmgren was certainly a player you’d take with you in combat. Despite being a central midfielder by nature, he slotted into the right-back berth with ease. He had by some margin been the Finns’ best player against the Netherlands, and again he was standing up to the challenge, even if he was faced with no direct opponent as the Welsh came without attacking wide players. He would primarily focus on defensive tasks, and would as such hardly assist in an attacking sense. Not that it was needed, as the energy of Myyry and indeed Tarkkio provided enough ammunition down the right flank anyway. Sweden based Holmgren contributed to giving the Finland back four a very dependable outlook.
Ukkonen seeks to replicate his goal in Swansea
Tarkkio has been mentioned as something of a menace to the visitors. He really was a fine addition to the Finnish select, continuously giving the Wales backline worries through the means of his powerful bursts on the ball. Another such run, this time through the centre, saw him advance to the fringes of the Wales penalty area, where he was eventually brought down by Ratcliffe. Southall would’ve remembered how Ukkonen had found the net in almost identical circumstances in Swansea, and so lined up a broad defensive wall. The home side’s playmaker would again give it a go with his sweet left foot, though his low effort eventually crept a yard wide to the left of the upright. The start of the second half had been of such nature that the home side were good value for their lead.
More on the Wales midfield woes
Wales were almost totally unrecogniseable from the home match with West Germany, where they had provided stiff opposition for one of the continent’s greats. How come they had fallen to such an inferior level of performance? Was it all down to Horne’s absence? Evidently, the Welsh midfield were second best. Williams was doing his best to put himself about as the more defensive alibi, though even he would at times be played in rings around. Oddly, it would be Williams who would have their first effort on target in the second half, as he connected first time after some nice work by Hughes had teed him up on the edge of the 18 yard area. The effort had been directed straight on goal, and so presented few problems for Laukkanen, whose fot worries from earlier in the half did no longer seem to cause him much concern. Ahead of Williams, Davies continued to be a futile performer. He did simply not possess enough in his locker to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, and so never asserted any influence on proceedings. Wales had put forward Malcolm Allen into warm-up, and were perhaps contemplating a change in personnel. At least Yorath had felt the need to send a signal to his players that they needed to up their game.
Paatelainen forced off
Finland forward Paatelainen had been a big threat in their first couple of matches, as he had seemed to be at the peak of his form by the start of the 1988/89 season. He had done well against West Germany despite Finland going down 4-0 in their inaugural qualifier, and he had showcased his talent during the 2-2 draw in Wales, where he had indeed scored Finland’s leveller. Here, though, he was usually second best in the challenges with hard man Aizlewood, and on the hour mark, Paatelainen went to the ground after a cynical tackle from behind committed by the same Wales defender. Aizlewood had knocked the striker over through a nasty tackle on Paatelainen’s right ankle, and the bulky forward’s seen writhing in agony whilst play continues. Eventually, Lahtinen will kick the ball into touch so that their leading frontman can receive some medical attention. What would Vakkila’s option be should he be deprived of the service from their main striker? Finland’s medical staff attempt for four minutes to mend Paatelainen, but it is futile, and Vakkila is forced into making their first substitution for the evening. Finland, who have less than a year previously been seen regularly featuring three forwards among their substitutes, do not have a recognized striker on the bench, and so replace Paatelainen with tall midfielder Törnvall. This results in a reshuffle, where Tarkkio moves into a striker’s role, whilst Ukkonen moves out into left midfield. Törnvall takes up the central position just ahead of Ikäläinen.
Just prior to Finland’s first substitution, the home side had had their first caution of the game as Europaeus had gone in with his foot high on Hughes. The striker had picked the ball up in an advanced midfield position and was striding forward. Europaeus’ challenge was on the clumsy side, and the booking was probably justified. It was Hughes’ turn to lay clutching on to bodyparts, though he would get himself back up quickly. Europaeus’ hanging foot had seemed to catch Hughes where it hurt the most. He had taken some big knocks so far, had Hughes, but he would continue to outshine his strike partner Rush for endeavour. On resumption of play, Davies would have a surprise effort just wide of target from the edge of the penalty area. It was the midfielder’s first telling contribution inside Finland territory all game so far.
Yorath alters the formation
Realising that they were second best in the battle for midfield possession, Wales manager Yorath would decide to switch formations. Their 3-4-3 had not given any immediate success, and now, with Finland’s possibly most dangerous player, Paatelainen, out of the way, it was time to implement 4-3-3. Nicholas was pushed into midfield, where he would assist Williams and Davies, as they would look for a way back into the game. At the back, Ratcliffe (right) and Aizlewood would make up the central defensive pairing. Blackmore and Phillips became more conventional full-backs, though their attacking contributions had been sparse even as they had featured as the wide options in their 3-4-3. The switch had come about around the time when Törnvall was introduced for the home side, so there was still some 25 minutes left for play.
Finland post Paatelainen
How would the home side counter this new potential threat from the visitors? Finland would not appear duly worried. They continued to go about their business as usual, although they had now moved the influental Ukkonen into a wide position. Perhaps would this give the fleet-footed conductor even more time to influence on proceedings? In a wide left capacity, he would not be faced with a direct opponent due to Wales’ new 4-3-3 nature, and if Ikäläinen and Törnvall continued to battle as well in the centre as Finland had done as a unit so far, the home side’s #7 could still have a big say from his new position. And were they coping without Paatelainen’s presence up front? They had lost some aerial power, but in this respect, the Welsh defence had generally mastered their opponents anyway, and with Paatelainen having played with less of a spring in his step than seen previously in the qualification, the loss of his services seemed manageable. Tarkkio had so far had a fine game, but he would become more isolated in his more advanced role, unable to reproduce the threat levels from when he had played wide in midfield. And Lipponen? Well, his goal apart, he had not caused an awful lot of problems, although he was agile and constantly on the move. Not that the goal was a minor contribution, mind; he had earnt his wages.
A second dreadful Welsh challenge
How Mr Kirschen could avoid to at least book Wales skipper Ratcliffe for his horrific tackle on Ukkonen midway through the second half is beyond anyone who witnessed it. Possibly tired of seeing his team mates up front getting kicked by a sturdy Finnish defence, Ratcliffe went studs in on the elegant midfielder and caught Ukkonen’s left calf just below knee point. Potentially, it was a tackle which could’ve ended a career. Fortunately, after laying in a heap on the floor for a couple of minutes, Ukkonen’s able to resume play. During Finland’s first three qualifiers, he had looked somewhat muted in his desire, but here he was clearly one of the home players the most up for it. He must have been bent on showing the Finland football audience what he was about. Should they lose his service for the second part of the half, it would be another big blow to them. Ratcliffe was a fortunate escapee.
With 20 minutes left for play comes an incident which will surprise the footballing world. It occurs as Saunders has again manouvred himself into a crossing position from the right (he is often seen towards the right since the break), though the ball’s drifted too close to the home ‘keeper, and so Laukkanen goes to claim the ball high. In doing so, he lifts his foot in typical goalkeeping manner, to prevent Rush from bumping into him. Rush has momentum, though, and can not stop until he’s connected with the ‘keeper, even if it is a light clash. Laukkanen makes a total meal of the “challenge”, and throws himself to the ground as if he’s been exposed to a grand hit. This prompts the referee to book Rush, who is rightly incensed, and who immediately confronts the Finland stopper. Laukkanen had probably realized he was making a fool of himself in falling theatrically, and had got quickly back onto his feet, and seemed to have a brief verbal spat with the Wales striker. What happens next is that Rush, commonly thought of as a footballing gentleman, is seen clearly spitting in the direction of Laukkanen, who is stood less than two yards away. It is a scattered effort, but the ‘keeper is most likely hit. Impressively, he only gives Rush the evil eye before resuming play through the ensuing indirect free-kick. The Liverpool striker will now miss their next match, the one at home to the Netherlands. However, on his form so far in the qualification, it will be an absence they can deal with. It must be added, though, that both this booking and the caution he had received in their previous qualifier had come by too easily. The spitting incident was never spotted by the referee.
Wales do not manage to gain a stronger foothold in the game even after that change in formation. Their 4-3-3 sees Nicholas sit as the deep midfielder, with Williams ahead of him to the right, and Davies to his left. The latter will remain a passenger through to the final whistle, and Williams is sadly inaccurate in his passing this evening. Subsequently, Wales will make their first substitution with the Derby midfielder being withdrawn in favour of full-back Bowen, who comes on as a right-back. Blackmore will move into Williams’ role in midfield. There’s less than ten minutes remaining, and the visitors have hardly been able to produce anything in front of Laukkanen after the break, with the exception of Davies’ surprise effort on 65 minutes, as well as Williams’ tame shot straight at Laukkanen prior to that. For the hosts, substitute Törnvall is another tall frame player, and someone who slots well into midfield, where he proves to be more of a box to box kind of player than either of Ikäläinen and Ukkonen. He also relishes a battle, and rather than surrender the bulk of possession to the visitors, Finland appear stronger since the introduction of the Sweden based 24 year old.
Late fine effort from Saunders
This is an often energy deprived Wales. Perhaps they are unable to give their all to the cause due to the fact that they stand virtually no chance of qualifying for the World Cup? They will see Finland make a second substitution when they replace Ukkonen, who’s had a fine game in midfield, with a more defensive kind of player in Tauriainen, who slots straight into the wide left position. The substitution appears to have nothing to do with the nasty challenge Ukkonen had suffered from Ratcliffe earlier. With not a lot of time left on the clock, Vakkila is sensing victory, and it seems he wishes to make sure, even if the visitors have hardly been threatening to bring balance to the scoreline. There’s one final push from the Welsh, and they are indeed close to equalizing when Saunders capitalizes on a poor clearance from Heikkinen. 20 yards out and slightly to the right of goal, he pumps a half volleyed effort on target. His shooting technique reveals he’s not a natural shooter, but he connects well, and with goalkeeper Laukkanen possibly troubled extra due to the ball’s flight in the wind, the Finland #1 can only punch it onto his own crossbar before it is eventually cleared by Europaeus. Three minutes from time, it was as close as Wales had got and would get. It mattered little that they made their final change a minute later, when debutant Maguire came on for the tiring Nicholas as the midfield anchor man. Finland were home and dry. But both sides were now officially out of World Cup contention.
In a game played in severe wind, this is a somewhat scrappy affair. There is not a lot of quality from either set of players, though it is the home side who appear to play with a greater level of desire. Wales’ 3-4-3 leaves them somewhat short in midfield, where their wing-backs are unable to aid the central two, and Finland playmaker Ukkonen finally shows his worth as he is able to conduct play. There’s little punch up front for the home side, though, who still move ahead after Wales switch off from a left wing corner. Lipponen heads home following a half-hearted challenge from Davies. The home side apply some rough challenges to unsettle a few of the visiting players, and ultimately, it is a deserved home win. Wales never manage a big, late push, despite hitting the crossbar through Saunders. Finland have their first win of the qualification.
1 Laukkanen 6.9
confident in claiming crosses, and beat Saunders’ late effort on to the bar
2 Lahtinen 7.0
never gave an inch
3 Heikkinen 7.1
kept Hughes in check
4 Europaeus 7.2
strong, composed and dominant, particularly in the air
5 Holmgren 7.1
stood his ground
6 Tarkkio 7.1
an eventful appearance; such energy and drive on the ball. Wandered well from one side to another
7 Ukkonen 7.2
playmaker and battler, ever greater influence as game progressed. Assist for the goal
(14 Tauriainen –
defensive focus after coming on)
8 Ikäläinen 7.0
collected well at the back of midfield
9 Paatelainen 6.7
less of an influence this time around. Off injured
(15 Törnvall 6.7
adds further physique to the Finnish midfield)
10 Lipponen 7.0
did not stop running, and was rewarded with match winning goal
11 Myyry 6.8
full of endeavour, but of little end product
1 Southall 6.8
could perhaps have been more convincing on the corner which brought the goal?
2 Blackmore 6.7
little in terms of attacking contribution
3 Phillips 6.6
struggled whenever Tarkkio came across
4 Nicholas 6.8
struggles to contain Lipponen’s agility, then moved into midfield
(14 Maguire –
comes on for his debut)
5 Aizlewood 7.0
fine display against the usually strong Paatelainen, then took the striker out of the game with horrendous tackle
6 Ratcliffe 6.8
swept, and hit some long balls forward
7 Saunders 7.0
again lively, but of little goal threat
8 Williams 6.5
unable to live with Ukkonen
(15 Bowen –
little time to make an impression)
9 Rush 6.4
became so frustrated by physical opponents
10 Hughes 6.6
frustrated too, but at least more dynamic than Rush
11 Davies 6.1
no influence whatsoever