Finland v Wales: Ryan Giggs’ side set for Nations League after long break

Ryan Giggs with Wales players
Ryan Giggs has won nine of his 19 matches as Wales manager since his appointment in January 2018
Venue: Helsinki Olympic Stadium Date: Thursday, 3 September Kick-off:19:45 BST
Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru, plus live text commentary and report on the BBC Sport website

Wales will be without a host of players for Thursday’s opening Nations League fixture in Finland.

Aaron Ramsey, David Brooks, Tyler Roberts and Ashley Williams all withdrew from Ryan Giggs’ squad on Sunday.

Joe Allen, Chris Mepham, James Chester and Joe Rodon were already missing when the original squad was named last week.

Ben Woodburn and Brennan Johnson have been promoted from the Wales Under-21s squad as cover.

Nottingham Forest attacking midfielder Johnson, 19, is one of three new call-ups in the senior squad, along with Liverpool’s 19-year-old right-back Neco Williams and Swansea City centre-back Ben Cabango, 20.

Hal Robson-Kanu could win his first cap since 2017 after the 31-year-old West Bromwich Albion forward reversed his decision to retire from international football.

Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale has also reported for duty as Wales prepare for Thursday’s trip to Helsinki (19:45 BST kick-off), as well as Sunday’s match against Bulgaria at Cardiff City Stadium (14:00).

Ramsey’s injury-enforced absence is a significant blow for Giggs. The Juventus midfielder scored both goals in Wales’ last game, a 2-0 home victory over Hungary in November which clinched a place at the delayed Euro 2020.

Fellow midfielder Brooks, who also missed the autumn matches, has an ankle problem, while forward Roberts is said to be lacking match fitness having stayed behind with club side Leeds.

Centre-back Williams, who is unattached having come to the end of his contract with Bristol City, has pulled out for “personal reasons”.

For the hosts, centre-back Paulus Arajuuri has withdrawn from the squad because of injury.

Finland’s attack is likely to be led by Norwich City striker Teemu Pukki, who scored 10 goals in the successful qualifying campaign for Euro 2020.

Teemu Pukki
Teemu Pukki has scored 25 goals for Finland in 80 appearances

Thursday’s match in Helsinki marks the return of international football from its coronavirus-enforced hiatus, and a first fixture for Wales since November 2019.

Victory over Hungary on that occasion secured their qualification for Euro 2020, which has since been postponed for a year because of the global pandemic.

As a result, Giggs’ young squad have been given another year to add to their experience and prove their worth before Wales go to just their third major tournament.

And while the European Championship remains the ultimate goal on the horizon, for now the immediate focus turns to a second Nations League campaign.

How does the Nations League work?

The Nations League is separated into four divisions. The top three divisions have four groups with four teams, with each side playing the other teams in their group home and away.

Wales are in League B and they are joined in Group 4 by Finland, the Republic of Ireland and Bulgaria.

Group winners in League A will go into the finals tournament in September or October 2021, while teams that top their group in Leagues B, C and D will be promoted, and the bottom sides in League A and B groups relegated.

And perhaps the biggest incentive for success? The best two Nations League group winners who do not reach the World Cup or play-offs through normal qualifying – which starts in March 2021 – will go into the 12-team World Cup European play-offs in March 2022, with three nations qualifying for the tournament in Qatar.

Replacing the majority of much-maligned friendly fixtures, the Nations League offers meaningful competition as well as a potential additional route to major tournament qualification.

Finland will also be at the delayed Euro 2020 – their first appearance at a major tournament – and will provide Wales with testing opposition in Helsinki.

Having developed young players throughout his two-and-a-half-year tenure, Giggs may well be eager to cast his eye over the latest burgeoning talents such as Premier League winner Williams, Cabango and Johnson.

There could also be the chance to assess more established players, with Robson-Kanu back in the fold.

“There’s been a good vibe about this week,” said Giggs.

“We haven’t worked with each other for nearly 10 months now. Some new faces, some older faces – an opportunity for players to lay down their mark for a big 12 months.”

Match facts

  • In 12 meetings between the teams, Finland and Wales have each won four and drawn four.
  • Wales are 23rd in the Fifa world rankings, 35 places above Finland in 58th spot.
  • Teemu Pukki was the joint-fourth highest scorer in Euro 2020 qualifying with 10 goals, two fewer than the top scorer, England’s Harry Kane.
  • Of the teams to have qualified for Euro 2020, none scored fewer than Wales’ 10 in their campaign.
  • Wales are unbeaten in six games, having last been beaten by Hungary in a Euro 2020 qualifier in June 2019, three days after losing in Croatia.
  • This is the longest Wales have gone without a fixture since 1924.

Most recent meeting

Wales 1-1 Finland (16 November 2013)

Andy King put Wales ahead in this friendly at Cardiff City Stadium, before Riku Riski scored a 90th-minute equaliser.

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