World Cup Qualifiers - Europe

World Cup Qualifiers - Europe (225)

Gareth Bale described Wales' World Cup qualifying play-off final win over Ukraine as the "greatest result" in the national team's history.

Andriy Yarmolenko's own goal ensured a 1-0 triumph for Wales, who were largely indebted to the heroics of Wayne Hennessey as Rob Page's team held on to book their spot at Qatar 2022.

It meant Wales qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1958 and Bale, who will leave Real Madrid when his contract expires at the end of the month, was in no doubt about the significance of the result.

"It's the greatest result in history for Welsh football," Bale told Sky Sports. "We are all ecstatic. The fans together, it was a delight, and we are going to a World Cup!

"It means everything. It's what dreams are made of. It's what we've been working for since we first came here. I'm so happy for all our amazing fans and our country. Words can't describe how we're feeling at the moment.

"It was difficult. I haven't done too much over the last four weeks because of my back spasm, which everyone knows about.

"Contributing in whatever way I could, but the most important thing was to get through it and get through to the World Cup.

"I gave my all on the pitch and I was running a bit on empty, it's always good to have players come off the bench and do a job."

 

Wales' victory means they will face England, the United States and Iran in Group B in Qatar.

And interim manager Page dedicated the Red Dragons' success to former boss Gary Speed, who died in 2011.

"I've said in the build-up, Gary Speed started this 12 or 13 years ago," he told a media conference. "I want to dedicate this to Gary. He started the culture, 12 years ago.

"There was a difference, there was a change. The environment completely changed. I've inherited that, Chris Coleman took it on and took it to another level, and I've inherited that group.

"We're confident going into games now. We don't hope to qualify for the World Cup or Euros now, we believe we can do it, so there's been a massive change in the mentality as well.

"I had a difficult decision tonight. I've got people like Harry Wilson and Brennan Johnson, who is going to be a superstar, isn't he? You've got people like him who didn't start tonight. But we had our best 11 on the pitch.

"It's encouraging, it's good, we're going in the right direction. We need to continue to develop these young players that we have done for the last few years, and it's only going to get better for us."

Gareth Bale says his future in football is not dependent on the result of Wales' World Cup play-off final against Ukraine on Sunday.

Bale, who was the world's most expensive player when he joined Real Madrid from Tottenham in 2013, has confirmed he will leave the European champions when his contract expires at the end of this month.

The 32-year-old has been linked with a return to Spurs, where he spent the 2020-21 campaign on loan, as well as hometown club Cardiff City, while it has also been suggested he could retire if Wales fail to qualify for Qatar 2022.

Bale, though, insisted the result of Sunday's clash at the Cardiff City Stadium will have no bearing on his decision over what to do next season.

Asked if his future hinges on the vital clash, Bale said: "Not necessarily, no. Like I've said before, I'm not concentrating on what lies ahead in the future.

"We have a massive game that all my focus is on. I really don't need to think or worry about anything else. I have no other worries."

Asked if he has offers on the table for next term already, Bale responded: "I've got loads!"

Restricted to just seven appearances in all competitions for Madrid this season, Bale also missed Wales' Nations League clash against Poland on Wednesday.

However, the talismanic forward, who carried out Saturday's media conference at Wales' training ground rather than at the stadium, said he is fit and ready for the match against Ukraine.

"After training I have my routines," he explained "When we have the press conference at the Vale, it's convenient. I can do my stuff and get ready for the game.

"Having to take two hours out of my day to get to the stadium didn't quite work. So we did it this way. Apologies but unfortunately the game comes first!"

Bale also said he would not apologise to Ukraine should Wales edge past them to qualify for their first World Cup since 1958.

Millions of Ukrainians have been displaced and thousands left defending their homeland after Russia invaded the country in March.

Asked if he would apologise, Bale said: "As horrible as it sounds, no. As it is a game of football and it is a competition that we want to get to as well.

"Everyone in the world feels for Ukraine. It is sport that unites everybody. We understand what it will do for Ukraine, but we want to get to the World Cup.

"That is not coming from a horrible place. It is coming from our country and hearts as we want to deliver for our own fans."

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Ukraine's hopes of reaching the World Cup will be decided in early June after new dates were confirmed for the postponed play-off games.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine meant the original plan to play Scotland in March was shelved and the knock-on effect was that Wales have also been kept waiting.

To reach the finals in Qatar, Ukraine must win away to Scotland on Wednesday, June 1, before coming out on top in another away game against Wales on June 5.

Wales secured their place in the final round of the play-offs with a 2-1 victory against Austria on March 24, which had been the original date for the Scotland-Ukraine fixture.

The winner of the final European play-off will go into a World Cup group alongside England, Iran and the United States.

UEFA announced the new play-off dates on Thursday, as well as explaining how its Nations League opening fixtures, also set for the June international window, would be rearranged to allow for Ukraine, Wales and Scotland to fulfil their World Cup commitments.

European football's governing body said it had held "extensive discussions" with eight national associations who would be affected by the World Cup games being switched to the intended Nations League dates and said there had been "a remarkable spirit of solidarity and cooperation" in negotiating an updated schedule.

Wales were due to play Poland in the Nations League on June 3, but that game has been switched to June 1, meaning Rob Page's team will have a competitive game in the build-up to facing either Scotland or Ukraine.

Scotland had been due to play Ukraine in the Nations League on June 7, but that game has been shunted back to September 21, with both teams then due to play three games in seven days.


Nations League group A4 and B1 games affected by World Cup play-offs, with new dates:

June 1: A4 - Poland v Wales
June 4: B1 - Armenia v Republic of Ireland
June 8: A4 - Belgium v Poland, Wales v Netherlands; Scotland v Armenia, Republic of Ireland v Ukraine
June 11: A4 - Netherlands v Poland, Wales v Belgium
June 14: A4 - Netherlands v Wales, Poland v Belgium
September 21: B1 - Scotland v Ukraine
September 24: B1 - Scotland v Republic of Ireland, Armenia v Ukraine
September 27: B1 - Republic of Ireland v Armenia, Ukraine v Scotland

Russia has withdrawn its appeal against a ban for its teams from FIFA competitions after World Cup qualifying continued without its senior men's national team.

Russian teams were suspended from FIFA and UEFA competitions following the country's invasion of Ukraine.

The FIFA sanction meant Valeri Karpin's Russia could not compete in their scheduled World Cup play-off semi-final against Poland.

The Russian Football Union (RFU) asked for the ban to be delayed, with that match set for late March, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rejected its request.

It meant Poland progressed to a final against Sweden, who had defeated the Czech Republic. Poland won to advance to Qatar 2022.

With that tie settled and Poland drawn into a World Cup group alongside Argentina, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, CAS announced on Tuesday the RFU had withdrawn its appeal last week.

Russia's challenges of various bans – including from UEFA – appear set to continue, however.

Ukraine midfielder Taras Stepanenko wants their World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final against Scotland to be postponed again.

Scotland and Ukraine were meant to meet last month, but FIFA delayed the match until June due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

As such, Wales – who beat Austria 2-1 in their play-off semi – are yet to find out which team they will face for a place at the Qatar World Cup in November.

Wales, Scotland and Ukraine all know which group they will be in should they progress, however, with the winner of the play-off path having been drawn alongside England, Iran and the United States in Group B.

But with no sign of the conflict in Ukraine ceasing, Stepanenko, who has played 69 times for his country, has called on FIFA to delay the match with Scotland again. 

The Shakhtar Donetsk man, who last played a match in December, told The Sunday Times: "We don't want to be known as victims here. We are strong and capable guys, everyone is fine, and we can play 100 per cent.

"But the question I would ask is how can we play such an important game when you haven't played a match for such a long time?

"Every football player knows that if you recover from an injury for a long time, no matter how much you work out in the gym and do running, you go out to play football and everything is different.

"The level and strength may not be enough with one match, but we will be asked to play two incredibly tough matches in maybe four days to get to the World Cup. If there is no option, then we must play.

"But I think it would be extremely difficult to achieve two positive results. We are hoping FIFA and UEFA recognise this and postpone the matches to give us more time to prepare."

Speaking after the World Cup draw was made in Doha on Friday, both England manager Gareth Southgate and USA coach Gregg Berhalter stressed they were not concerned by how long it might take for the final team in their group to be confirmed, given the extraordinary circumstances.

"When that tie is played out is irrelevant really," said Southgate, while Berhalter added: "We're patient on that and pulling for [Ukraine] 100 per cent."

Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale will wait until after Wales' World Cup qualifying play-off final in June before deciding on his future, agent Jonathan Barnett has said.

Bale is out of contract at the Santiago Bernabeu at the end of the season and is widely expected to depart after spending nine years in the Spanish capital.

The 32-year-old has won 14 trophies during his time with Madrid, including four Champions Leagues, but he has been accused of often prioritising Wales over his club side.

Indeed, Bale has played in just five of Los Blancos' 42 matches in all competitions this term, totalling 270 minutes on the field – the equivalent of just three games.

Bale has played over 330 minutes for Wales this season, however, scoring five goals across six matches.

While the former Tottenham star's future is a hot topic of debate, he has yet to decide on his future at club level beyond the end of the season.

"We have not discussed anything yet," agent Barnett told BBC Sport. "Once we know Wales' situation with the World Cup, we will discuss it then."

 

Bale scored twice in Wales' 2-1 win over Austria in last week's qualifying play-off semi-final, leaving his country one game away from a first World Cup appearance since 1958.

That took his tally in a Wales shirt to 38 goals in 102 caps, making him his country's record goalscorer, while only Chris Gunter (107) has earned more caps.

The Dragons will now face either Scotland or Ukraine in a one-legged final at Cardiff City Stadium, with that fixture expected to be staged in June.

At club level, Bale's relationship with Madrid supporters and the Spanish press has continued to deteriorate after being labelled a "parasite" by daily sports newspaper Marca.

A third spell with Tottenham has been mooted once Bale departs Madrid, while a switch to MLS is also reportedly a possibility, as is a move to home club Cardiff City.

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