Bale happy to see coach and Wales players on same page

Sports | 1 Apr 2021

Gareth Bale praised caretaker coach Robert Page for keeping Wales focused despite off-the-field distractions and securing a "massive win" over the Czech Republic in a 2022 football World Cup qualifier.

Daniel James' goal secured a 1-0 win that moved Wales up to third place in Group E, one point behind the second-placed Czechs and four adrift of leaders Belgium. The Welsh have played one game fewer than both teams.

It was a much-needed tonic for Wales whose head coach Ryan Giggs remains unavailable due to his arrest on suspicion of assaulting a woman last year.

As if that wasn't enough of a distraction, players Hal Robson-Kanu, Rabbi Matondo and Tyler Roberts were axed from the squad for breaking a curfew at the team hotel. Matondo and teammate Ben Cabango were also racially abused online following Wales' friendly win over Mexico last weekend.

"Pagey has kept us focused despite what is going on off the field," Bale said. "The win is just what we needed."

Only the group winners will qualify automatically for the finals in Qatar, with the team finishing second going into the playoffs.

World No 1 Belgium, who thrashed Belarus 8-0 with a second-string side, are the overwhelming favorites to top the group, while Wales have already all but guaranteed themselves a play-off after winning their Nations League group last November.

A place at the finals would set the seal on Bale's international career, as he suggested this would be his last qualifying campaign.

"It was a massive result," the 31-year-old said. "We showed a lot of heart and desire to match a very physical team. It was very chaotic, but we kept going until the end."

Elsewhere, Cristiano Ronaldo helped Portugal to a hard-fought 3-1 win over Luxembourg in Group A with his first goal of the qualifying campaign.

Ronaldo scored his 103rd international goal five minutes after the break to give Portugal the lead after Diogo Jota had cancelled out Greson Rodrigues' 30th-minute opener for Luxembourg. Joao Palhinha added a third.

Ronaldo had been controversially denied what looked to have been an added-time winner in Saturday's draw against Serbia in Belgrade.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands closed the gap on Group G leaders Turkey to one point after they won 7-0 in Gibraltar.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE



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