In the summer, it was Gareth Bale who fluffed his lines from the penalty spot without any significant consequences and on Wednesday it was Harry Wilson who failed to beat the goalkeeper from 12 yards as Wales played out a friendly stalemate in Finland. An experimental visiting side came closest to finding a late winner and Bale came on to edge closer towards a century of caps, winning number 97 in Helsinki.
Only Wilson and Jonny Williams in a youthful starting lineup had previously scored for Gales so when the former saw his poor first-half penalty comfortably saved by the Finland debutant Carljohan Eriksson, the prospect of a goal-fest seemed even more unlikely. Equally the Norwich striker Teemu Pukki, behind only Jari Litmanen in Finland’s all-time scoring charts, was left on the bench in readiness for qualifiers against Kazakhstan and France.
Wales’s preparations for qualifiers against Belarus and Estonia on Sunday and Wednesday respectively have been far from ideal, con 13 players unavailable owing to visa issues, coronavirus protocols, suspension and injury. Aaron Ramsey pulled out of the squad hours after it was named due to a thigh injury, while Daniel James, who completed a move to Leeds on Tuesday, travelled to Finland separately to the team but did not feature.
The penalty stemmed from Brennan Johnson, fresh from scoring his first goal for boyhood club Nottingham Forest against rivals Derby last weekend, driving into the box on his first Wales start. Johnson bounced in off the right flank, slowed the Finland defender Niko Hämäläinen down and then accelerated towards the byline, where the full-back caught the winger. Wilson stepped up from 12 yards but his spot-kick was tame, Eriksson diving to his right to gather.
The goalkeeper Danny Ward was the only member of the Wales starting XI that also began their last-16 defeat to Denmark in June but Wayne Hennessey replaced him at the interval to win his 97th cap for his country. The Tottenham defender Ben Davies also entered at the break, while the teenager Rubin Colwill and Josh Sheehan of Cardiff and Bolton followed, the latter in place of Williams, who joined Swindon of League Two last month.
It was a game of few chances but Matt Smith, the Manchester City midfielder on loan at Hull, sent an effort narrowly wide on the hour mark, a few minutes after Wilson saw a low free-kick saved by Eriksson in the Finland goal. The substitute Colwill prodded wide after trying to divert Wilson’s miscued shot. Smith was the catalyst for Wales’ best opening from open play, sending in a teasing cross from the right but no one in red could reach it. The hosts, Entretanto, failed to register a shot on target and the Wales pair Tom Lockyer and Dylan Levitt both deflected efforts over in the second half.