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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 September, 2003, 20:37 GMT 21:37 UK
Wales book play-off place
Wales 1-1 Finland

Wales guaranteed a play-off place in the Euro 2004 qualifiers after battling to a draw with Finland.

Simon Davies gave Wales a dream start with a goal after only three minutes, but they had Jason Koumas sent off in the second half.

Finland piled forward and eventually hit back with Mikael Forsell's 80th-minute header.

And the home side were indebted to goalkeeper Paul Jones for pulling off a string of magnificent saves to ensure they avoided a third consecutive defeat.

Victory would have left Wales in an even better position at the top of Group Nine given Italy's 1-1 draw against Serbia & Montenegro.

We've put in a great effort this evening and we've got some reward
Wales coach Mark Hughes
But the point does mean Wales are certain of finishing in second place - even though they can only qualify automatically if Italy fail to beat Azerbaijan in their final match.

They were desperate for a positive start to restore confidence after the 4-0 debacle in Milan, and Davies duly supplied it with a superbly taken effort.

John Hartson headed Gary Speed's long ball perfectly into Davies' path and the Spurs midfielder rifled his right foot shot into the bottom right hand corner, despite a suspicion of handball.

Manager Mark Hughes might have expected the early goal to settle his side, but it was Finland who dominated possession and territory.

Their passing was crisp; their tackling solid and the shots began to fire quickly in towards Jones.

KEY MOMENTS
3 mins: Simon Davies puts Wales ahead
64 mins:Jason Koumas sent off after second bookable offence
80 mins: Mikael Forssell equalises for Finland
The best chance fell to midfielder Aki Riihilahti after 18 minutes, but his right foot shot went over the bar.

Wales were missing the disruptive qualities of the suspended Robbie Savage as the Finns found time and space to unsettle the Welsh defence.

With a play-off place within their grasp, the Welsh players looked fearful of making mistakes and were unwilling to move forward at pace.

Finland were again left cursing the Spanish referee on the half-hour mark when Koumas looked to have blocked Mika Nurmela's free-kick with his arm. The visitors had to settle for a corner.

Ryan Giggs' well struck free-kick forced Antti Niemi to make his first save of the match 10 minutes before half-time.

But the home side had to survive a few more nervous moments before heading into the sanctuary of the dressing room still holding a precious lead.

Robert Earnshaw injected a desperately needed sense of pace as the second half began at a lethargic pace.

The Cardiff City striker turned sharply to beat his marker, but his attempted one-two with Davies was collected by the on-rushing Niemi.

Jones was then forced to make three crucial saves in quick succession.

First Joonas Kolkka was denied from the edge of the box and then ar point-blank range at the far post.

John Hartson
Wales struggled to create any meaningful goal scoring chances
Jones then managed to block Forssell's shot as the danger signals began to sound loud and clear for the men in red.

Wales were clearly hanging on and their task was made even harder when Koumas became the first Welshman to be sent off at the Millennium Stadium.

The West Brom midfielder was handed a second yellow card for pulling back Forssell as he chased a ball towards goal.

It left Wales with 15 minutes to protect their advantage, and Jones was soon back in action saving twice from Forssell and then a header from centre-back Hannu Tihinen.

But the inevitable finally happened when Forssell found the back of the net with a solid header ten minutes from time.

Earnshaw almost forged a chance for himself in injury time to snatch an unlikely winner, and a Giggs cross sailed agonisingly over Pembridge's head.

But the sense of relief was obvious when the final whistle finally arrived to end an epic battle and bring Wales another step closer to the Euro 2004 finals in Portugal.


Wales: Paul Jones, Weston (Johnson 73), Melville, Page, Speed, Davies, Pembridge, Koumas, Giggs, Hartson (Blake 82), Earnshaw.
Subs Not Used: Williams, Barnard, Carl Robinson, Oster, Crossley.

Sent off: Koumas (64).

Booked: Koumas, Melville.

Finland: Niemi, Pasanen (Kopteff 82), Saarinen (Reini 46), Saarinen, Hyypia, Tihinen, Riihilahti, Nurmela, Tainio, Forssell, Vayrynen (Kuqi 56), Kolkka.
Subs Not Used: Jaaskelainen, Kuivasto, Valakari, Johansson.

Booked: Pasanen.

Att: 70,000

Referee: Arturo Dauden Ibanez (Spain).






WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC Five Live's Ian Brown
"It's the play-offs at least"


Wales boss Mark Hughes
"The players were magnificent"



SEE ALSO
Will Wales qualify?
10 Sep 03  |  Wales


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