Kieffer Moore kept up his fine introduction to the international scene with a late winner as Wales beat Finland 1-0 in their Nations League opener in Helsinki.
The Cardiff City new boy struck his third goal in eight Wales games from close-range from Dan James’ teasing low delivery 10 minutes from time to add a rare spark to an otherwise uninspiring game in the Finnish capital, where an out-of-sorts Gareth Bale was earlier taken off at half-time.
Moore looked to have nodded the visitors ahead inside four minutes from another James delivery but his goal was ruled out for a push in the build-up, but that bustling start was far from a sign of things to come.
There was little more in the way of further goalmouth action until the second period, when Finland defender Leo Vaisanen fired against the Wales woodwork from four yards out after 49 minutes, as the hosts returned after half-time reinvigorated.
But Wales dug in and began to wrestle back control of the game, and finally had something to show for it when Moore tapped in to send his side top of Group B4.
Wales leave it late in Helsinki
It would be no huge surprise if both sides struggled to build the kind of intensity which had propelled both into next summer’s re-arranged Euro 2020 finals given the lack of match action during a truncated pre-season across much of Europe, but there looked to be few signs of rust for Wales in the opening stages.
First, they momentarily appeared to have taken an early lead when Ben Davies’ nice ball down the left channel released James, who turned back onto his right and picked out Moore to nod into the far corner – only to be denied by an eagle-eyed assistant referee, who spotted his push on Vaisanen in the build-up.
Vaisanen would be involved again when nearly putting through his own net from another dangerous James delivery, with Lukas Hradecky at full stretch to turn his attempted block away, before Bale could not force the rebound home from close range.
That was as good as it got before the break. Four minutes after the restart, however, things were again looking lively as a Finland cross from the left was turned back across goal by Teemu Pukki to the ever-busy Vaisanen, who from four yards somehow hit only the post, rather than the back of the net.
Wales’ sluggish start to the second period slowly improved, and they began to enjoy more territory without ever threatening Hradecky’s clean sheet.
That was until 10 minutes from time, where a rare lapse in defensive concentration allowed James space on the left from another Davies through-ball, and his low delivery into the six-yard box left Moore the simple task of tapping home.
Finland failed to add the spark they had been missing in the final 10 minutes as they sought out an equaliser to no avail, leaving Wales to jump top of the group after Ireland drew 1-1 with Bulgaria in the group’s other game.
Wales boss Ryan Giggs: “I thought it was a really gritty performance, not our usual flowing football we’re capable, but credit to Finland who made it difficult for us.
“We scored early on and had another chance, and had those gone in we might have gone on and played better football, but I think it’s the kind of game you learn from, but you’ll also take a lot of pluses.
“We dug out the result in the end, and I always say with a clean sheet you’ve always got chances with the players we’ve got.”
On Gareth Bale’s substitution: “It was planned before the game. He’s had no football at all, it was a real juggling act picking the team, Gareth has had the least amount of football out of everyone.
“It was always the plan, if he felt good an hour, but I thought it was best with Sunday in mind to bring him off and give Harry, who also hasn’t had much football some minutes.”