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Saturday, 7 September, 2002, 18:05 GMT 19:05 UK
Classy Wales stun Finland
Wales striker John Hartson
John Hartson pounced to score his seventh Wales goal
Finland 0-2 Wales

Wales proved how far they have come under manager Mark Hughes by grabbing a fine win over Finland in Helsinki on Saturday.

Goals from John Hartson and Simon Davies got Wales off to the best possible start in their European Championship qualifying campaign, stunning their Group Nine rivals.

Finland, who had not lost at home for 10 matches, hit the woodwork twice in the second half as they piled on the pressure, but Wales dug deep to claim their first competitive win away from home in three years.

Wales midfielder Simon Davies
Davies finished off a fine Wales counter-attack

Both sides started the match in cagey fashion, and there was little goal-mouth action at either end.

Mark Pembridge, playing the holding role in Wales' midfield, earned an early booking for a clumsy lunge on Finland's play-maker Jari Litmanen.

While the former Liverpool player was in a lively mood, the home side's main threat in the first half came from Mika Nurmela down the right flank.

Wales skipper Gary Speed, playing at left-back rather than his more usual of midfield role, was tormented by the Heerenveen winger.

And only good defensive cover from Robbie Savage and Danny Gabbidon prevented any real damage being done.

Although Speed struggled for pace, his overall worth to Wales was underlined by his part in the game's opening goal.

Wales manager Mark Hughes
Wales boss Mark Hughes has plenty to smile about

With half an hour gone, the Finnish defence failed to deal with Speed's long header into the penalty area.

Ryan Giggs helped it on and Hartson arrived at the back post to slide the ball under Antti Niemi.

It was the Celtic striker's seventh goal in as many games for Wales and underlined his value to Hughes' team.

A goal down, Finland were forced to take the game to Wales, and after the break they appeared to be getting on top of the visitors.

First, Joonas Kolkka found a yard of space in the box but was foiled by Mark Delaney's speedy challenge.

Then Nurmela picked out Litmanen with a great cross only to see the assistant referee's flag go up for offside.

Finland captain Jari Litmanen
Jari Litmanen couldn't inspire Finland

And with 20 minutes left, Paul Jones dived acrobatically to save Shefki Kuqi's looping header.

But moments later the other Southampton goalkeeper on the pitch, Finland's Niemi, was not so fortunate.

Savage picked up the ball in midfield and fed Giggs, who drew the Finland defence towards him before slotting a perfect through-ball to Davies.

The Tottenham youngster opted for the near post and rifled his shot home for his second goal in successive internationals.

Litmanen hit a post late on, but Davies could have given Wales a third with a cheeky chip that Niemi did well to claw away.

Wales should take huge heart from this result and will go into the next qualifier, against Italy at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on 16 October, with real expectation of getting a result.


Finland: Niemi (Southampton), Nylund (HJK Helsinki), Hyypia (Liverpool), Tihinen (Anderlecht), Riihilahti (Crystal Palace), Saarinen (Rosenborg), Nurmela (Heerenveen), Tainio (Auxerre), Litmanen (Ajax), Kuqi (Sheffield Wednesday), Kolkka (Panathinaikos).
Subs: Jaaskelainen (Bolton Wanderers), Hietanen (Denizlisbor), Kuivasto (Viking Stavanger), Ilola (HJK Helsinki), Kopteff (Viking Stavanger), Johansson (Charlton Athletic), Kottila (HJK Helsinki).

Wales: P Jones (Southampton), M Delaney (Aston Villa), A Melville (Fulham), D Gabiddon (Cardiff), G Speed (Newcastle), S Davies (Tottenham), M Pembridge (Everton), R Savage (Birmingham), A Johnson (WBA), R Giggs (Man Utd), J Hartson (Celtic).
Subs: Earnshaw (Cardiff), Weston (Cardiff), Bellamy (Newcastle), Blake (Wolverhampton), Koumas (WBA), Carl Robinson (Portsmouth), Crossley (Middlesbrough).

Referee: Konrad Plautz (Austria).

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 ON THIS STORY
BBC Five Live's Peter Slater
"Wales expected, their team delivered"
Wales boss Mark Hughes
"We got the job done"
Wales midfielder Simon Davies
"It was a great team performance"

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