Wales trip up again on long hard road

Wales 0 Finland 2
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The Independent Online

John Toshack was brutally frank in his pre-match "win or no chance" assessment and so he remained true to his ultimatum when it came to the inquiry of this most depressing and premature of anticlimaxes. In fact, the Wales manager was even willing to suggest that never mind South Africa 2010, the next major finals may also be beyond his young side.

Toshack has recently signed an extension that will take him up to Euro 2012, but by the sound of it he did not expect to be in Poland and the Ukraine. "Eventually this team will do well and mature together," said the 60-year-old. "But it will probably not be me who gets the benefit."

It was hard not to feel for Toshack as he reflected on a World Cup qualifying Group Four defeat which cruelly exposed the limits of Welsh resources. And he did not just have to deal with this reality check or indeed with the boos that echoed around this two-thirds empty stadium and any number of ill-informed comments in the Sunday media which laid all the blame on his "negative" formation. On Wednesday, Germany visit Cardiff, so Toshack has no time whatsoever to galvanise a shell-shocked squad led by a captain whose interview in the tunnel immediately after the final whistle did not quite fall in the Agincourt bracket.

Bellamy laid into Wales, laid into the opposition and said he doubted whether Wales could get through the next hour, never mind the next three days. While his attack on his players was probably deserved, his crude dismissal of the victors' talents was graceless. Toshack later felt obliged to speak up for his captain, while pointing out that Bellamy's own performance had been a number of compartments down from top-drawer.

"We know how much Craig cares," he said. "We also know how much of a perfectionist he is. When he sits down and analyses his own performance, if he is being honest he will say it wasn't much better than some of the others."

These were brave words from Toshack as, more than anyone, he appreciates how much he needs the Manchester City striker. A couple of other high-profile players have walked away from the Welsh camp in recent years and goodness knows what would happen if Bellamy took their lead. "If anything happens to Craig, we'll cross that bridge," said Toshack. "People ask me about getting Ryan Giggs back and that he has done well this season. But that's not on. His Manchester United form might be because he has not been involved with us and has had more time to rest. Craig may be looking at that, and maybe a few others are too. But I cannot afford to worry about things that may never happen."

At least Jari Litmanen will not be lining up for the Germans. The 38-year-old was determined to make a mark. He ran the show, making the first goal for Jonatan Johansson, which came slightly against the run of play, and set about disabusing the notion of any Welsh revival thereafter. It left Finland's Brummie manager, Stuart Baxter, talking optimistically of qualification. What Toshack would give for such a mindset.

Goals: Johansson (42) 0-1; Kuqi (90) 0-2.

Wales (4-1-4-1): Hennessey (Wolves); Gunter (Nottingham Forest), Collins (West Ham), Nyatanga (Derby), Bale (Tottenham); Fletcher (Plymouth); Davies (Fulham), Edwards (Wolves), Ledley (Cardiff), Koumas (Wigan); Bellamy (Manchester City). Substitutes: Ramsey (Arsenal) for Edwards, 56; Robinson (Toronto) for Fletcher, 65; Earnshaw (Nottingham Forest) for Ledley, 71.

Finland (4-4-1-1): Jaaskelainen (Bolton); Pasanen (Werder Bremen), Hyypia (Liverpool), Tihinen (FC Zurich), Kallio (Fulham); Johansson (Hibernian), R Eremenko (Dynamo Kiev), Heikkinen (SK Rapid ), A Eremenko (FC Saturn); Litmanen (Lahti); Forssell (Hanover 96). Substitutes: Sjolund (Djurgardens) for A Eremenko, 78; Kuqi (Crystal Palace) for Forssell, 89.

Referee: E Gonzalez (Sp).

Booked: Finland Heikkinen, Jaaskelainen.

Man of the match: Litmanen.

Attendance: 22,604.

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