Finland see off Wales
© AFP

Craig Bellamy created a piece of Welsh football history for himself but could not inspire his side to a victory that would have kept alive their hopes of finishing third in FIFA World Cup™ qualifying Group 4.

Bellamy's first-half equaliser was his 17th for his country and he is now Wales' fifth highest all-time scorer. Finland led early on through Roni Porokara, and grabbed a late winner from defender Niklas Moisander as Wales let this game slip away from them with a disappointing second-half display.

And their problems for Wednesday's match in Liechtenstein were compounded by yellow cards for Bellamy and Wayne Hennessey that will see them banned from the final group match. Wales were able to name only four substitutes because of their chronic injury problems.

The latest player to be struck down was Nottingham Forest forward Robert Earnshaw, who was flown home yesterday evening after picking up a calf injury. David Cotterill, whose wife is ill, had left on an earlier plane as Wales' problems reached epidemic proportions.

However, it did mean that boss John Toshack was able to give Blackpool's David Vaughan his first start for Wales since August 2007, the left-sided midfielder improving encouragingly as the game progressed. Gareth Bale returned from a knee injury for his first game since May for his country, while youngster Simon Church won his fourth cap alongside Craig Bellamy up front.

Finland were captained by former Liverpool man Sami Hyypia, winning his 102nd cap, Jari Litmanen reached 128 with former Charlton man Jonatan Johansson now on 99, and aiming for his century on Wednesday away to Germany. All three are expected to retire from international football after that final Group 4 match.

In a barely half-full stadium, with a hardy and noisy 750 from the Principality, Finland got off to the perfect start with a goal after just five minutes. Dreadful defending by Wales allowed Johansson in on the right to skip round James Collins before seeing a low shot palmed straight out into the area by Hennessey. Porokara had the simple task of guiding the ball home from 12 yards.

Wales, though, gathered themselves after some more shaky defending, to strike back with an equaliser after 17 minutes. Bale sent Vaughan racing down the left, and when the low cross arrived in the box, Bellamy had spun away from Hyypia to beat Jussi Jaaskelainen from close in.

The goal had plenty of significance, apart from upsetting the Finnish fans who roundly abused the Wales skipper following his disparaging remarks about Finland after Wales' 2-0 defeat at the hands of Stuart Baxter's side in March. It took Bellamy to 17 for his country, making him Wales' fifth highest scorer of all-time, overtaking Mark Hughes - his Manchester City manager - who netted 16 times.

Now only Ian Rush, Ivor Allchurch, Trevor Ford and Dean Saunders have scored more goals for Wales than the feisty little Cardiff-born striker. Jaaskelainen then needed to save well after Bellamy had been put through by Church, while at the other end, Petri Pasanen saw a powerful header just clear the Wales bar.

Wales started to grow in confidence with 18 year-old Aaron Ramsey performing well in a direct contest with 38-year-old Litmanen. But it still needed Hennessey to keep Wales level at the break when he did well to pull down a 25 yarder from Tim Sparv, diving to his right.

Wales took off the hard-running Church after 62 minutes and sent on Sam Vokes to partner Bellamy. Finland then sent on Kasper Hamalainen for Joonas Kolkka after 68 minutes. And it took a fine save to his left by Hennessey to stop the substitute scoring a minute later.

Next into the book was Hennessey for arguing over a corner and he too will be suspended for the next match. Wales had done little in this half to take any positive control, sitting back and inviting pressure. And they were punished after 76 minutes.

Full-back Moisander was in far too much space on the left of the box when Sparv played him in. Collins hurled himself into a challenge and was left skidding on his back as the defender flicked the ball away from him before driving an angled shot into the far corner, evading Bale on the line.

Neal Eardley took over from Lewin Nyatanga after 82 minutes, and Pasanen was booked three minutes later for tripping Bale in full flow. Finland sent on Shefki Kuqi and Alexei Eremenko for Johansson and Litmanen, with Jaaskelainen stopping David Edwards when he was clean through in the final seconds.