Nations League: Gareth Bale's brilliance ensures Wales flatten Finland to gain promotion
Wales needed just a point to hold off the Finns at the top of Group B4, but were well worthy of all three points to round off an impressive week for Page after a 0-0 friendly draw against the USA and a 1-0 win over the Republic of Ireland
Wales stand-in manager Robert Page believes Gareth Bale's love for football has been rekindled by a return to Tottenham after playing his part in a 3-1 win over Finland that secured promotion to the top tier of the Nations League.
Bale teed up Harry Wilson for the opener in Cardiff before goals from Daniel James and Kieffer Moore ensured Wales did not miss the presence of absent manager Ryan Giggs. The former Manchester United midfielder mutually agreed with the Football Association of Wales to not take charge of November's three internationals after being arrested on suspicion of assaulting his girlfriend. Giggs denies all allegations of assault. Wales needed just a point to hold off the Finns at the top of Group B4, but were well worthy of all three points to round off an impressive week for Page after a 0-0 friendly draw against the USA and a 1-0 win over the Republic of Ireland.
"It's massive, we've achieved what we set out to and what Ryan started," said Page. "To go unbeaten in that competition is something to be very proud of." Wales will head to Euro 2020 confident of living up to their extraordinary run to the semi-finals four years ago as an array of young stars again impressed. In France in 2016, Bale was the inspiration and the 31-year-old also has a spring back in his step since joining Spurs on loan from Real Madrid. "Gareth has got the buzz back, he's now at a club that shows him love and he's fallen back in love with football again," added Page. "That's what we all need." A burst by Wilson put Wales in a strong position after just 12 minutes as he was hauled down by Jere Uronen just outside the box and the defender was shown a straight red card. Finnish goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky kept his side in the game, producing one outstanding save from Bale.
But the Bayer Leverkusen stopper was beaten when Bale picked out Wilson to fire low into the net. James has struggled to make an impact at Manchester United this season but showed what he is capable of with a blistering strike into the top corner a minute into the second-half. Page then withdrew Bale with the game seemingly won, but the visitors were given a lifeline when Teemu Pukki's fine control and finish halved the deficit just after the hour mark. "I'm getting there, getting more games in a week now," said Bale on his return to match fitness. "I think the manager looked after me and kept Tottenham happy." Another spark of James's talent helped restore the hosts' two-goal cushion as the winger got to the by-line and stood up a cross for Moore to head home at the back post. With 16 points from their six games, Wales are also well-placed to secure one of two playoff places for the best Nations League group winners for the 2022 World Cup should they fail to qualify automatically.
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