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Friday, 6 September, 2002, 18:09 GMT 19:09 UK
Wales U21s slump continues
Finland Under 21 2-1 Wales Under-21
Danny Sjolund broke Welsh hearts by grabbing a late winner for Finland as the European Under-21 Championship got underway in Valkeakoski on Friday.
Wales had dominated much of the match and Arsenal's Adam Birchall had given Wales a deserved half-time lead.
But Pekka Lagerblom equalised on 65 minutes and then Sjolund, who is on Liverpool's books, give the hosts the points a minute from the end.
Wales run of games without a win now stretches to 25 - the worst in the country's history at any level - but when it has been five years without a win, misfortune seems to follow whoever wears a Wales U21s shirt.
That the winner came from Sjolund with two minutes left after he had just put Wales captain Rhys Day out of the game with a bad tackle, only underlines the misfortune.
Wales had to throw on Millwall's Matthew Rees - who had spent three days in bed with a virus - and that reorganisation and lack of fitness and concentration cost Wales.
Wales U21s manager Jimmy Shoulder conceded that the late injury to Day cost his side dearly.
"Losing Rhys certainly didn't help," Shoulder said. "He had been playing very well and the Finns were limited to about five chances before that.
"Then we had to put on a player in Matthew Rees who has been ill for three days. It was costly because we had to make all sorts of changes and their boy took advantage.
"That was as good a performance from this side in my 12 years with the FA of Wales.
"The lads carried out instructions to the letter, and although statistics don't lie, it mustn't be forgotten that their team had 100 caps between them at this level and we had six players making their debuts."
This new intake of players produced promise, effort and plenty of enterprise but again saw victory snatched from them.
One plus point was the performance of Birchall, who scored a fine goal on his debut for Wales U21s.
Birchall, just 17 and the second youngest player to be fielded by Wales at this level, raced down the right and scored with a chip to the far post.
Wales had six debutants in their side who were dual qualified - goalkeeper Jason Brown, defender Shaun Pejic, midfielder David Vaughan and striker Birchall can now no longer play for England.
Darren Moss and Andy Mumford also made their Wales U21s bows.
Wales started with spirit to pile the pressure on Finland and it was no surprise when the visitors took the lead on 38 minutes.
Matty Williams played a neat ball down the line for Birchall to run after and the Gunner reached the corner of the box, looked up, and sent a clever cross-shot that cleared the out of position Otto Fredrikson and dropped into the far corner.
A few minutes later Fredrikson had to hurtle from his line to throw himself at Williams' feet as the Manchester United player broke clear.
Finland were disappointing in the first half and not much better just after the break and Wales could have doubled their lead on 63 minutes when Swansea's Andrew Mumford won possession in midfield and ran on to lash a 20-yard shot against the foot of an upright.
Yet two minutes after that Finland grabbed an equaliser when Sjolund created space on the left for a low cross that was struck fiercely by Lagerblom and squirmed under Brown into the net.
Wales' almost grabbed the lead again minutes later, only for a fine diving save from Fredrikson stopping a diving header from Day following a Michael Price free-kick.
Replacement Kevin Gall also went close before Sjolund grabbed the crucial score to leave Wales empty handed.
Finland U21: Fredrikson, Luoma, Haapaniemi, Lindstrom, Nyman, Lagerblom, Haarala, Okkonen, Sjolund, Scheweleff, Innanen. Subs: Rahkamaa, Sorja, Myntti, Parviainen, Vayrynen, Mahlakaarto, Makela.
Wales U21: Brown, Moss, Price, Pejic, Day, Tolley, Valentine, Mumford, Birchall, Matty Williams, Vaughan. Subs: Rees, Darren Jones, Stock, Mark Jones, Gall, Byrne, Whitfield.
Referee: A Chykun (Belarus).
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