Finland 0-2 Wales
Wales got their EURO 2004™ qualifying campaign off to a flying start with a surprise away success against Finland.
John Hartson and Simon Davies were the Welsh wonders in Helsinki, giving their side a priceless three points in Group 9. Both sides were keen to get off to a winning start, particularly with Italy and Yugoslavia still to come.
If the local fans had expected the home side to come storming out from kick-off, they were left disappointed as the game began slowly with chances few and far between. The Finns were the first to settle into any kind of rhythm but the Welsh rearguard showed plenty of resilience in blocking out any attempts from the home side.
The visitors seemed content to sit back and let the Finns run themselves ragged against a solid Welsh wall and so the match proceeded without any chances of note in the first 30 minutes. The deadlock was broken on the half-hour mark when the Finnish defence failed to clear a cross from Gary Speed, and Celtic FC striker Hartson converted from close range.
The Finns immediately went back on the attack but they did not get any closer than a 20-metre attempt from Jari Litmanen towards the end of the first half. The home side were hoping for better things after the interval and certainly picked up their play.
Finland were unlucky not to restore parity when Teemu Tainio hit the post from a long-range shot and Shefki Kuqi came close with a header that was just tipped over the bar by Welsh goalkeeper Paul Jones. It looked like it would not be the Finns night and that was underlined when Ryan Giggs released Davies, and the Tottenham Hotspur FC man drilled the ball in at the near post in the 72nd minute.
"We're delighted with the result," said Wales coach Mark Hughes. "It was a good start for the qualifying campaign and that could prove very important. In the first half, we didn't play exactly how I would have wanted but things improved in the second half. All in all it was a good performance."