Gareth Bale returning to Cardiff to play for his hometown club "ticks all the boxes" according to Wales boss Robert Page.

Bale's contract at Real Madrid will expire at the end of this season, with only two games remaining for Los Blancos – Friday's home game against Real Betis to end the LaLiga season, before next Saturday's Champions League final with Liverpool.

While speculation around a potential retirement should Wales fail to qualify for the World Cup persists, he would likely need to find a new club in the event they progress past Scotland or Ukraine in June's playoff.

In response to rumours of a move to Cardiff for Bale, Page asserted that is simply feels right but respects his captain's right to make his own decisions after the playoff.

"It ticks all the boxes," he said. "Ultimately, it's Gareth's decision and Cardiff City's.

"I think he's right to say 'Let's throw full focus on to the fifth [of June]. Let's get there first and have that discussion.

"We can carry on talking about it and guess, have our opinion, and it does make sense. It makes a lot of sense. He can base himself at a training ground he's familiar with."

Bale has made a solitary appearance in LaLiga since February, coming on as a substitute late in the second half of Real Madrid's win over Getafe in April.

He has been sidelined with back problems since, with Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti even revealing it immobilised him at times.

The 32-year-old was named in Wales' 27-man squad for the June window, which includes four Nations League games, but could join camp if he is not named in Madrid's Champions League final squad.

"We will keep in touch with him," Page said. "It's common sense that if he is not going to feature at all, and Real Madrid are happy with releasing him, then of course we would like him on camp.

“They don’t have to. We don’t have the players [officially] until the 30th, so we can’t pull rank on that.

“We just have to go with what they suggest. Rightly so because he’s employed by the club, but if there’s an opportunity to get players in earlier then we would like that.”

Aaron Ramsey has the character to put his penalty miss in Rangers' Europa League final shoot-out defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt behind him, according to Wales boss Rob Page.

The on-loan Juventus midfielder, brought on in the second half of extra time, missed the only spot-kick as Frankfurt prevailed 5-4 in a game that finished level at 1-1 in Seville on Wednesday.

It marked the first time Rangers had tasted defeat on penalties in European competition since the 1999-2000 UEFA Cup when losing to Borussia Dortmund in the last 32.

Ramsey was visibly upset after Rafael Borre converted the decisive penalty for Frankfurt, who are the first German team to win the UEFA Cup or Europa League since Schalke in 1996-97.

But Page insists he has no worries about selecting the 31-year-old to take a penalty should Wales' upcoming World Cup qualifying play-off against either Scotland or Ukraine go the distance.

"I have no doubt whatsoever that if it comes to penalties that he will take one," Page said at a news conference on Thursday after naming his 27-man squad for that June 5 showdown in Cardiff.

Asked if he still has faith in Ramsey, Page said: "Absolutely, 100 per cent. It happens to the best in the world. Top players, they put themselves up.

"I am so proud of him for putting himself up [to take a penalty]. He is a world-class footballer. He had the courage and conviction to take a penalty. Top players recover from that, no problem."

Ramsey is part of Wales' latest squad, as is Gareth Bale, who will become a free agent when his Real Madrid contract expires in the coming weeks.

Bale's agent this week suggested a return to English football is the most likely option, with the forward aiming to keep fit ahead of November's World Cup should Wales qualify for the tournament for the first time in 64 years.

"I think everybody is probably thinking the same thing about his future," Page said. "It will depend on how results go with regards to what he does next season with a club.

"The only person who can answer that is Gareth. All I know is whenever he turns up for us he is first class. The full focus on himself is winning this game against Ukraine or Scotland, so he can worry about that after."

Bale has started just four games for Madrid in all competitions this season and has not been part of their matchday squad for any of their past five games because of a back problem.

The Wales skipper is back in training, however, and Page expects him to be part of Los Blancos' squad for next week's Champions League final against Liverpool in Paris.

"I think Gareth puts himself when he is fit to be available for Real Madrid like he does with us," Page said. "It is down to the manager then whether he wants to select him or not in the squad. 

"I think he is confident he will be involved and we will wait and see whether he is involved. We will then get him in camp as soon as we can."

Gareth Bale could be set for a return to English football when his Real Madrid contract expires next month, according to his agent Jonathan Barnett, who has confirmed the winger's imminent exit from the Santiago Bernabeu.

The 32-year-old already looked set to leave Los Blancos at the end of his deal, with Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti saying last month that Bale wanted "to finish on a high note" with the club.

While Madrid wrapped up their 35th league title recently, Bale's role in that success was virtually none-existent, with the former Tottenham man making just seven appearances all season in all competitions, totalling just 290 minutes of action.

Bale has won four Champions League titles during his nine-year spell in the Spanish capital, scoring three goals in finals of the competition (one against Atletico Madrid in 2014 and two against Liverpool in 2018).

However, he has attracted the ire of the club's fans ever since he paraded a flag bearing the slogan "Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order" after helping his national team qualify for Euro 2020, and was described as a "parasite" in Spanish sports daily Marca earlier this year.

Bale remains a key man for his country, scoring a brace in Wales' 2-1 World Cup qualification win over Austria in March to put them within one win of reaching the tournament in Qatar, and Barnett says the result of the Dragons' June play-off against either Scotland or Ukraine will inform any decision on the player's future.

He also hinted Bale could return to England next season, having returned to Tottenham on loan for the duration of the 2020-21 campaign. 

"Gareth will leave Real Madrid, but we have to wait for what Wales will be able to do," Barnett told Portuguese outlet Record.

"It all depends on whether Wales qualify for the World Cup, then we will make a decision, which may vary on whether or not Wales go to the World Cup. 

"Is he likely to return to England? I think so, but we'll have to wait and see."

Wales will face either Scotland or Ukraine on June 5 in Cardiff for a place at the World Cup, where they would face England after being drawn into Group B. 

Bournemouth midfielder David Brooks has revealed he is cancer-free and says he is determined to resume his career "in the not-so-distant future."

The Wales international announced last October that he had been diagnosed with stage two Hodgkin Lymphoma.

Brooks revealed on Tuesday that he has been given the all-clear after undergoing treatment, and the 24-year-old is eager to make his comeback as soon as possible for a Cherries side that are pushing for promotion to the Premier League.

He posted on Twitter: "It has been a few months since my last update and in that time I have thankfully completed my cancer treatment.

"I would like to say a huge thank you to all of the incredible medical staff for their amazing work and support throughout the process.

"Last week I met with my specialist having reviewed my final test results. I am delighted to say the treatment was successful and can say that I have been given the all-clear and am now cancer free.

"These words feel incredible to say and I am so thankful for all of your messages and good wishes, these really helped me through the tough times.

"I am so excited to start the journey back to full fitness and continuing my football career.

"The lads at Bournemouth have had an excellent season so far and I am looking forward to being back at The Vitality to cheer the team on as we head into the most important fixtures of the season.

"I am determined to work my hardest over the months ahead and I can't wait to be back out there playing in front of you on the pitch in the not so distant future."

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

Wales are among the countries to have declared an interest in hosting the 2022-23 Nations League finals.

UEFA confirmed on Wednesday that the football associations of Wales, Belgium, Poland and Netherlands have all declared their interest in making a bid, with the deadline to submit final bid dossiers not until October 5.

The league phase begins in June 2022, and will run until September, with a break between then and June to allow for the remainder of the domestic season and the 2022 World Cup.

The hosts will be confirmed in January 2023, with the finals due to be held from June 14-18.

The draw for the competition took place in December, with 2018 World Cup finalists France and Croatia together in Group A1, Spain and Portugal among those in Group A2, and the trio of Italy, England and Germany featuring in Group A3.

Interestingly, the four nations to have declared an interest in hosting the finals have all been pitted against one another in Group A4.

Portugal staged the first edition of the tournament in 2019, while Italy hosted in 2021.

Gareth Bale will "definitely" continue to play club football next season if Wales qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, says national team boss Rob Page.

Page also vehemently defended Bale against recent media criticism in Spain, saying he was angered by Marca's depiction of the Real Madrid winger as a "parasite" last month.

Bale's future has been called into question in recent weeks, with the 32-year-old making just four starts for Carlo Ancelotti's team in LaLiga this season and speculation abounding that the wideman could call time on his club career.

However, Wales' caretaker manager Page is certain the four-time Champions League winner would continue playing to fulfil his dream of featuring at a World Cup, should Wales qualify, although he was none the wiser as to where he would go when his Madrid contract expires in June.

"If we get to the World Cup in November, then he will definitely be playing football," Page told the Athletic. "The World Cup is his dream, the one thing missing from his CV. 

"Where he'll play, I'm not sure, whether he comes home, stays in Spain, fancies another challenge, I really don't know."

Bale netted twice in Wales' crucial 2-1 victory against Austria last month, including a stunning free-kick opener, to send the Dragons to June's play-off final in Cardiff.

If Wales beat either Scotland or Ukraine to secure a place in Qatar, they will make their first World Cup appearance since 1958, and would feature in the same group as rivals England.

Page was also asked about the Spanish media's coverage of Bale's Real Madrid career, saying he was left fuming by Marca depicting Bale as a "parasite" last month.

"I'm absolutely appalled by it," he added. "I know Gareth well now and a lot of people don't see what he does off the pitch, the donations he made to the NHS recently, to a hospital in Cardiff, a considerable amount of money.

"He doesn't get credit for that because he doesn't shout about it and people don’t hear about it. He keeps it to himself. 

"That parasite comment made my blood boil. I don't like that. 

"That's not the Gareth Bale who is the captain of our country, who represents us, and he never will be that."

Bale is the top goalscorer in the history of the Welsh national team, netting 38 times in his 102 senior caps to date. Only Chris Gunter, meanwhile, has made more appearances for Wales, winning five caps more than the Madrid winger.

Carlo Ancelotti wants Gareth Bale to leave Real Madrid in a blaze of glory rather than with his reputation sullied, hailing the Welsh winger as a history maker.

Bale was a €100million (£85.3m) signing from Tottenham nine years ago during Ancelotti's first stint as Los Blancos coach, and with Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema he formed part of a thrilling front three.

The 32-year-old has already won the Champions League four times in Madrid, as well as two LaLiga titles, but in recent seasons Bale has been nudged towards the fringes of the squad.

Injuries have been a factor, and while Bale has been reliably brilliant for the Wales national team, opportunities in Madrid have become sporadic. He spent last season on loan at Tottenham.

His contract expires at the end of June, and Bale will be moving on. This season he has faced vicious criticism in some sections of the Spanish media, recently being dubbed a "parasite" in sports daily Marca, and there has been a danger of him leaving without any fanfare, or even amid a torrent of negativity.

Bale did not help himself when he paraded a flag bearing the immortal slogan "Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order" after helping his national team qualify for Euro 2020.

Yet head coach Ancelotti says Bale, who could face Getafe in LaLiga on Saturday, is worthy of respect for his achievements in Spain.

He has scored 81 goals in 175 LaLiga games for the club, and has managed five goals and two assists in eight league games against Getafe.

In the Champions League, Bale has totted up 16 goals and 12 assists in 41 starts and 16 substitute appearances. That figure includes two crucial goals in Madrid's 3-1 defeat of Liverpool in the 2018 final in Kyiv.

The most recent outing from the bench came on Wednesday, late in the day as Madrid won 3-1 at Chelsea in the first leg of their quarter-final.

Madrid could yet win a famous double in Bale's final season at the club.

"Gareth Bale is fit right now. I'm sure he wants to show it here at Real Madrid," said Ancelotti. "It would be deserved and right for him to bid farewell to the Bernabeu.

"He expects confidence in him from us. He wants to finish his career at Real Madrid on a high note. We will see how it goes.

"He has already made history at Real Madrid with his games, his goals and his triumphs. He's a very respected player, and we want the best for him."

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."

Gareth Southgate said England's foremost focus will be getting out of their World Cup group after two of their three opponents were confirmed in Friday's draw.

England, who have reached one major semi-final and one final under Southgate, will open their campaign with a first-ever meeting against Iran on the tournament's opening day on November 21.

They will then face the United States in a repeat of their opening game at the 2010 World Cup, while their final group match could see them face a home nations rival in Wales or Scotland, who will compete with Ukraine for Europe's final qualification place in a play-off that has been delayed due to Ukraine's ongoing conflict with Russia.

On paper, Group B looks set to present a smooth passage to the knockout stages for England but Southgate, who led the Three Lions to a first World Cup semi-final since 1990 four years ago, is not looking any further ahead than the group stages.

"The first two teams we've not played for quite a while," Southgate told BBC Sport. "The third is a total unknown but throws up a possible British derby. We know what they're all about, we've had plenty of them!

"For us, we're in on day one so it's quite clear now what our program looks like, with the end of the Premier League season and getting out here as quickly as possible."

Asked if that knowledge gave England more time to prepare for possible knockout games, Southgate responded: "It does, but we've got to get out of the group.

"What we've done well is approach these tournaments by looking at the group. 

"The first objective is to get out of the group, regardless of the opposition, and then you build from there.

"When you're seeded, you get the advantage of missing out on those big six or seven teams. For most of the first seeds, they'll be pleased with the group they get.

"There's obviously some really high ranked teams in Pot Two, and the US in particular, I know Gregg Berhalter quite well, we've met a couple of times and had long chats about things. 

"They've got some very good players and we know what they could be capable of as a nation. That one, in particular, is an intriguing one."

Furthermore, being drawn into a World Cup group with the United States for a third occasion represents the first time that England have been in the same group as one particular nation at three separate editions of the tournament.

England captain Harry Kane, meanwhile, was glad to see that the Three Lions will open their campaign on the first day of the tournament.

"Always exciting to see who we get in the group!" Kane tweeted. "Playing on the opening day will be incredible as well."

The decision to host the World Cup in Qatar has faced strong opposition from many quarters.

Southgate, who made his opposition to any boycott of the tournament clear during the recent international break, expressed his desire for the World Cup to drive substantive change in the Gulf state.

"We'll continue to speak to people here," he added. "We've got to build relationships here to be able to highlight any change that we'd like to make. 

"It's important to do that in the right way. Today my focus is just on the draw and working out what that all means really."

Alan Shearer claims England will be happy with their group for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, with the Three Lions facing the United States, Iran, and the final European play-off winner.

The draw means Gareth Southgate's men could face a clash against rivals Wales or Scotland, with the Scots due to face Ukraine for a place in June's play-off final in Cardiff.

It also threw up a repeat of England's 2010 clash with the United States, with whom they shared a 1-1 draw in their opening game at the tournament in South Africa.

England have never faced Wales, Scotland, or Ukraine at the World Cup, but did face a home nation in each of their last two European Championship campaigns, beating Wales 2-1 at Euro 2016 and drawing 0-0 with Scotland at Euro 2020. 

Former England captain Shearer felt his nation should be pleased to have avoided many of the bigger nations, and spoke of his excitement at the prospect of facing a rivalry match.

"Gareth will look at that and think it could have been a lot more difficult," Shearer said to BBC Sport. "I am sure he and his players will be happy with that. 

"This is the one thing in not having that 'group of death', it [the tournament] is pretty much open.

"I have to say that I am pleased Scotland, Wales or Ukraine got put in England's group. It adds that little bit more excitement. If it is Wales or Scotland it makes it a bit tougher.

"Gareth Southgate would have taken that - deep down, without a doubt. 

"He just can't come out and say it just in case. He's too professional to say it, but he'll be more than happy with it."

"It's a big enough incentive to get to the World Cup but to be in a group with England is great and that will motivate the players," he said.

"We've got play-offs we have to worry about first. It won't be easy against Ukraine. If we manage to get through that and play Wales in the final then that is a huge game. 

"Scotland don't have a bad record against Wales and Scotland are in a good place at the moment.

"Our performance at Wembley in the Euros showed the potential of this Scotland team. They've responded well to going out in the group stage at the Euros and there's competition for places all over the pitch."

Former Wales skipper Ashley Williams was also pleased with his nation's draw, but insisted that Rob Page's team would be desperate to reach their first World Cup since 1958 for their own reasons.

"No disrespect to anyone, all the teams are good, but it could have been a little bit more daunting in another potential group," he said.

"I'm quite happy but there's a lot of work to do before then. 

"They [Wales] just want to get there anyway for their own reasons [not purely to face England]. One of Wales or Scotland usually draw England!"

England will begin their 16th appearance at the World Cup against Iran on November 21, before facing the United States on November 25 and wrapping up their group campaign on November 29.

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.

Gareth Bale took aim at the media again on Friday, responding to scathing recent coverage of him in Spain.

The Wales international was the hero for his country on Thursday after scoring two excellent goals to seal a 2-1 win against Austria and put them just one game away from qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar.

However, Bale has rarely featured for Real Madrid, his club side, this season, playing in just five of their 42 matches in all competitions, totalling 270 minutes on the field – the equivalent of three whole games.

Spanish outlet Marca has labelled the winger a "parasite", also accusing him of "sucking" money out of the club.

Bale had described the criticism as "disgusting" after the Austria win, and he took to Twitter on Friday to further express his exasperation, saying journalists needed to be held accountable for the impact of their reports on athletes.

"The Daily Mail shining a light on this piece of slanderous, derogatory and speculative journalism by Marca," he wrote.

"At a time where people are taking their own lives because of the callousness and relentlessness of the media, I want to know, who is holding these journalists and the news outlets that allow them to write articles like this, accountable?

"Fortunately I have developed thick skin during my time in the public spotlight, but that doesn't mean articles like these don't cause damage and upset personally and professionally to those at the receiving end of these malicious stories.

"I have witnessed the toll the media can take on people's mental and physical health."

Bale moved to the Santiago Bernabeu from Tottenham in 2013 and has won two LaLiga titles, a Copa del Rey, four Champions Leagues and three Club World Cups.

"The media expect superhuman performances from professional athletes, and will be the first to celebrate with them when they deliver," he continued. "Yet instead of commiserating with them when they show an ounce of human error, they are torn to shreds instead, encouraging anger and disappointment in their fans.

"The everyday pressures on athletes is immense, and it's as clear as day how negative media attention could easily send an already stressed athlete, or anybody in the public eye, over the edge.

"I hope that by the time our children are of an age where they are able to ingest news, that journalism ethics and standards will have been enforced more stringently.

"So I want to use my platform to encourage change in the way we publicly talk about, and criticise people, simply for the most part, not meeting the often unrealistic expectations that are projected onto them.

"We all know who the real Parasite is!"

Gareth Bale described the criticism he has been the subject of as a Real Madrid player as "disgusting" after leading Wales into a World Cup play-off final.

Bale has played in just five of Madrid's 42 matches in all competitions this season, totalling 270 minutes on the field – the equivalent of three whole games.

Once the most expensive player in world football, the winger was absent for Madrid's most recent match, a painful 4-0 defeat to bitter rivals Barcelona.

However, Bale was back and back to his best when Wales came calling on Thursday.

The 32-year-old captained his country to a 2-1 win against Austria in their play-off semi-final, scoring two sublime goals – the first a breathtaking free-kick.

Bale appeared to play through the pain barrier in a brilliant display, eventually making way while holding his groin.

The former Tottenham man appeared to enjoy the celebrations, but his tone shifted slightly when asked if he had a message for his critics in Spain.

"No," he told Sky Sports. "I don't need to send a message, honestly. It's a waste of my time.

"It's disgusting, they should all be ashamed of themselves. I'm not fussed. End of."

Bale has come into form at a great time for Wales, scoring five goals in his past four international appearances – more than in his previous 28 games for his country (four).

In European qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, only five players have been involved in more goals than Bale's eight (five goals, three assists).

Wales will play either Scotland or Ukraine for a place in Qatar, with that decider at home, where Bale and Co. are unbeaten in 17 games in all competitions.

Gareth Bale scored a pair of stunning goals to secure a home World Cup play-off final for Wales against either Scotland or Ukraine.

Wales have not qualified for a World Cup since 1958 and surely will not get a better opportunity than ahead of Qatar 2022.

Rob Page's side hosted Austria in their play-off semi-final on Thursday and once again relied on Real Madrid superstar Bale to prove the difference in a 2-1 win.

He netted the opener with a sublime first-half free-kick, then doubled Wales' lead with another brilliant effort, placed high past the Austria goalkeeper.

Only a Ben Davies own goal – deflecting Marcel Sabitzer's shot beyond Wayne Hennessey – threatened to spoil the Welsh party, as they held on despite Bale's withdrawal in stoppage time with an apparent groin injury.

Bale will at least have time to recover from that issue before the final, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine saw the former banned from FIFA competitions and the latter allowed to postpone their semi against Scotland.

No date has yet been set for the Scotland tie, with Steve Clarke's men instead facing Poland – Russia's planned play-off opponents – in a friendly they drew 1-1 on Thursday.

Krzysztof Piatek's 94th-minute penalty rescued a draw for Poland, albeit that goal came earlier than Sweden's decisive strike against Czech Republic.

Sweden will be Poland's final opponents after Robin Quaison finished off a smart team move with 10 minutes remaining in extra time following a goalless draw – that 1-0 victory teeing up the trip to Chorzow on Tuesday.

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