Football

Bale praises caretaker boss Page after ‘massive win’ over Czechs

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

Daniel James’ late goal secured a 1-0 win over the Czechs on Tuesday (March 30), which moved Wales up to third place in Group E, one point behind the Czech Republic in second and four adrift of leaders Belgium, having played one game fewer than both.

Manchester United forward James settled a hard-fought clash with a towering header from Bale’s superb cross eight minutes from full-time at the Cardiff City Stadium. Both sides finished with 10 men after second-half dismissals for Czech striker Patrik Schick and Wales defender Connor Roberts.

It was a much-needed tonic for Wales whose coach Ryan Giggs remains away from the team due to his arrest on suspicion of assaulting a woman last year. Giggs denies the allegations and has been on bail until May 1.

As if that wasn’t enough of a distraction, players Hal Robson-Kanu, Rabbi Matondo and Tyler Roberts were axed from the squad on Monday for staying up too late and breaking a curfew at the team hotel.

Matondo and teammate Ben Cabango were also racially abused online following Wales’ friendly 1-0 win over Mexico on Saturday.

“Pagey has kept us focused despite what is going on off the field. The win is just what we needed,” Bale told Sky Sports.

Added Page: “We found the way to win. We knew we were in for a battle and they were a threat constantly. They had six up front at times and a massive aerial threat in the box. But we had the clear-cut chances and thankfully we took one at the end.

“Three points so far is a great return considering the players not here. You bring those players back and there are bigger and better things to come.”

Only the group winners will qualify automatically for the Finals in Qatar, with the team finishing second going into the play-offs. World No. 1 Belgium are the overwhelming favourites 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 on Monday this would be his last qualifying campaign.

Bale, currently on loan at Tottenham Hotspur from Real Madrid, has the delayed Euros to look forward to later this year but he will be 33 by the time the World Cup Finals get underway.

“We didn’t get off to the best start against Belgium, so it was massively important to get the win tonight,” he said.

“It was a massive result. We showed a lot of heart and desire to match a very physical team. It was very chaotic, especially second half, but we were ready and kept going until the end and the most important thing is to get that winner.”

Czech captain Vladimir Darida was confident that his side, who have four points from three games, will qualify for the Finals.

“We’re sorry we did not repeat the good performance from the previous games. We got off to a slow start and we paid for it,” he said.

“But the qualifying campaign will be long and I believe we’ll make up for this.” – AFP

FootballWalesCzech Republicgareth baleDaniel James2022 world cupqualifiertottenham hotspur