Gareth Bale's new Los Angeles FC team-mate Jose Cifuentes has explained why he decided to hand over his squad number to Major League Soccer's latest star import.

Bale signed for LAFC in June after leaving Real Madrid on the expiration of his contract.

The Welsh winger, who turns 33 this week, has signed a one-year deal with the MLS team, though that deal can be extended through to 2024.

With a World Cup campaign with Wales on the horizon in Qatar, Bale has the chance to stay at the top of his game in California, and he will be able to do so while wearing his preferred shirt number – 11.

Bale has worn the number 11 for his country for over a decade, while he also wore it in his last season at Tottenham in 2013-14, and his first seven campaigns with Madrid.

With the number occupied by Erik Lamela when Bale returned to Spurs on loan in 2020, the forward took number nine, while he was given the number 18 last season for Los Blancos.

However, even though Cifuentes was already wearing 11 for LAFC, he was happy to hand it over to Bale.

Writing on his official Instagram account, Cifuentes said: "[Number] 11 has accompanied my career at LAFC from the beginning and although it is special and has an important meaning, I have decided to give it to Gareth, who has used that number much longer than me.

"My interest is to contribute so that my team-mates, the club and the fans feel supported by me and with this gesture I want to demonstrate that.

"Let's stay together because we need each other to achieve the goals."

Cifuentes scored twice in LAFC's last game, a 3-2 derby win over LA Galaxy, with only Carlos Vela and Cristian Arango having managed more MLS goals than the midfielder among his team-mates so far in 2022.

Bale's MLS debut is likely to come against Nashville later this week.

Gareth Bale insisted Major League Soccer is "not a retirement league", and he hopes his move to Los Angeles FC will allow him to stay in contention for Wales at least until Euro 2024.

While his initial deal with LAFC is only a one-year agreement, it could be extended through to 2024, when Wales will be hoping to compete in the European Championship.

Bale left Real Madrid at the end of June after his contract was allowed to expire, with the forward – who was once the most expensive player of all time – enduring a difficult final few years at the Santiago Bernabeu.

His attitude and commitment to Madrid were often called into question by supporters, who routinely voiced their frustration towards him in recent years.

But Bale has continued to be worshipped by Wales supporters, and he more than played his part in helping them secure qualification to the World Cup for the first time since 1958 earlier this year.

Keeping himself fit ahead of Qatar 2022 is undoubtedly a key reason for the move to MLS, although Bale was eager to stress how he sees the potential for a long-term future in the United States.

While MLS has garnered a reputation for being a league where high-profile European players go to retire, Bale is adamant that is no longer the case.

"Like I said, this is a league that's really grown, that's come a long way in the last 10 years," he told reporters at his official presentation on Monday.

"Everyone's striving to improve the league, the players who come over see that as well. I don't think anyone sees it now as a retirement league, it's really a league that's physical, demanding; the weather changes are difficult, the travel is difficult.

"But it's exciting, and to play football in front of fans like these is what you play football for."

Bale's new club were only founded in 2014, debuting in MLS in 2018, but have since gone on to make a real impression on the sport in North America, even reaching the final of the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League.

Many were surprised by Bale's decision to head for the States given he reportedly had offers from English clubs and boyhood team Cardiff City, but he is convinced the European perception of MLS is outdated.

"I've watched MLS for a long time," he said. "Obviously the time difference makes it difficult, but whenever I could watch I'd try to catch it on the TV.

"The standard is really increasing, it's a lot better than people in Europe really think.

"The quality is improving, the league is improving, the stadiums are improving, the teams are improving.

"It's a league really on the rise. Yes, it's a new club, but it feels like it's been here forever. The job Larry [Freedman] and John [Thorrington, co-presidents] and rest of the team here have done to create such an amazing fanbase so quickly is remarkable.

"It's testament to how well the club is run, and I'm happy to be a part of it.

"To have my first training session today was amazing, the first step in hopefully a long journey."

Wales wing Alex Cuthbert has been ruled out of this weekend's series decider against South Africa with a shoulder injury.

The 32-year-old was forced off the field 17 minutes into the visitors' 13-12 victory in Bloemfontein on Saturday, which levelled the three-match series at 1-1.

Wales confirmed on Monday that Cuthbert will play no part in the third and final Test, with no replacement being called up.

Josh Adams, who replaced Cuthbert and scored Wales' late try, is now expected to start the crunch clash in Cape Town.

Captain Dan Biggar and prop Dillon Lewis suffered shoulder and arm injuries respectively in the second Test, but they have not yet been ruled out.

South Africa confirmed earlier on Monday that centre Andre Esterhuizen, who started for the much-changed hosts last time out, will play no part after breaking his hand.

South Africa centre Andre Esterhuizen has been ruled out of Saturday's series decider against Wales with a broken hand.

The 28-year-old sustained the injury during the Springboks' 13-12 loss in Bloemfontein over the weekend.

Boks assistant coach Deon Davids confirmed on Monday that Esterhuizen is facing around a month on the sidelines.

However, South Africa were always expected to revert back to the XV that started the first Test, which ended in a dramatic 32-29 victory.

That would see Lukhanyo Am and Damian De Allende recalled as the hosts' starting midfield combination for the Cape Town showdown.

Esterhuizen is now in a race against time to be fit for South Africa's opening Rugby Championship match against New Zealand on August 6.

Josh Adams scored a late try as Wales claimed a dramatic 13-12 victory over South Africa to level the series in Bloemfontein.

Wales secured their first away win over the Springboks in 12 attempts after Adams went over in the corner with Gareth Anscombe converting with just over a minute remaining at the Toyota Stadium.

Wayne Pivac's side had lost their four previous Tests away from home, but they went into the break level at 3-3 following a scrappy first half in which Dan Biggar and Handre Pollard exchanged kicks.

Pollard was captaining the reigning World champions after Jacques Nienaber made 14 changes from the narrow 32-29 win in the first Test last weekend.

The Montpellier fly-half kicked a further nine points as the hosts edged closer to maintaining their record of having never lost a three-Test series on home soil when winning the opener.

But Wales did well to hold their own with a numerical disadvantage after Alun Wyn Jones was controversially sin-binned; the replacement deemed to have been cynical with his hands in the breakdown.

Upon his return, the visitors launched one final surge and following a neat build-up, Anscombe - who had earlier split the uprights with a penalty to keep Wales in striking distance - offloaded for Adams to cross in the corner.

Anscombe subsequently held his nerve under the most intense pressure to convert from a tight angle; his nation recording their first Test victory in South Africa since overcoming Japan at the 1995 World Cup.

Gareth Bale hailed the "incredible reception" he received after being presented to the Los Angeles FC fans for the first time since his move to the MLS leaders.

The former Real Madrid and Tottenham forward recently joined the MLS franchise on a one-year deal, which could be extended through to 2024, following his departure from Los Blancos.

The Wales international will be hoping for plenty of game time ahead of the World Cup later this year, and what will be the Dragons' first appearance at the finals since 1958.

Bale arrived in California on Friday and received a rapturous reception at the Banc of California Stadium when he was paraded to the supporters ahead of his new side's 'El Trafico' derby against rivals LA Galaxy.

LAFC ran out 3-2 winners and the 32-year-old is excited by the ongoing project at the franchise formed back in 2014.

 

"What an incredible reception I had when I came in," he told ESPN.

"The best prep [for the World Cup] is to play games.

"I want to come here. I want to play games and make my stamp and do as best I can to try and help LAFC win a trophy.

"And I can help with the youngsters because it's a very young team here, give them advice, seeing what I do in terms of professional standard and try to help them.

"The league is a growing league. It was an exciting opportunity I felt was right for me and my family.

"It's very new, but it's something that's really glamorous. It's just a very attractive club."

Wayne Pivac can understand the reasons behind South Africa naming an almost entirely new team to face Wales in their second Test but says his side will not take the second-string Springboks lightly.

Reigning world champions South Africa beat Wales 32-29 last weekend in Pretoria with the final kick of the ball in a thrilling start to the three-Test series.

The sides reconvene in Bloemfontein on Saturday in a game Wales, who have now lost three in a row against their opponents, must win to keep their hopes of a series triumph alive.

The hosts surprisingly named 14 changes to their side for this weekend's showdown when announcing their squad on Tuesday, with experienced lock Eben Etzebeth – in line for his 99th cap – the only player to retain his place in the XV.

Among the fresh faces in the Springboks' side are uncapped pair Kurt-Lee Arendse and Evan Roos, while four others – Ntuthuko Mchunu, Ruan Nortje, Deon Fourie and Grant Williams – could make their debuts from the bench.

Welsh rugby great Gareth Edwards accused South Africa of "disrespecting" Wales with their selection, but Pivac was more understanding when asked about the mass changes at his news conference on Thursday.

"From our point of view, it's a big focus on what we can improve from the last Test match," he said. "We are in a different part of the cycle; really we're at the end of our season, and they're at the start of theirs. 

"They've got their reasoning why they did it. They've got depth and quality throughout the squad and some experience in this team. So we're certainly not taking them lightly at all.

"There are players playing there with an opportunity to impress for the third test, so we know they'll come out strongly and represent their country like anyone else in that jersey. So for us, it's around what we can control and that's our performance.

"It hasn't changed our preparation at all. It is going to be 15 rugby players in green shirts, and we are expecting more of the same."

 

Unlike their opponents, Wales have stuck largely with the same group that came agonisingly close to pulling off a big result last weekend, with wing Alex Cuthbert replacing Josh Adams in the only change.

Adams is among the replacements, as is uncapped prop Sam Wainwright after Tomas Francis returned home following the concussion suffered in the first Test.

Elsewhere, George North will equal Stephen Jones' record as the most-capped Wales men's international back when making his 104th appearance.

Pivac's side head into the contest on a run of four successive defeats, each coming by a margin of four points or fewer – not since a six-match losing streak between February and November 2020 have they endured a worse run.

South Africa: Gelant, Arendse, Kriel, Esterhuizen, Fassi, Pollard (c), Hendrikse; Thomas du Toit, Dweba, Nyakane, Etzebeth, Orie, Coetzee, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Roos.
Replacements: Marx, Mchunu, Koch, Nortje, Elstadt, Fourie, Williams, Willemse.

Wales: Williams, Rees-Zammit, North, Tompkins, Cuthbert, Biggar (c), Hardy; Thomas, Elias, Lewis, Rowlands, Beard, Lydiate, Reffell, Faletau.
Replacements: Lake, Wyn Jones, Wainwright, Alun Wyn Jones, Navidi, Williams, Anscombe, Adams.

 

Dan Biggar was bemused by criticism of Wales' approach to their first Test in South Africa, wondering if they were expected to "just roll the carpet out".

Wales came agonisingly close to a famous win in Pretoria, ultimately going down 32-29 following four costly yellow cards – including one for Biggar.

After playing a brief period with 12 men, Wales had 13 on the pitch when an unlikely try gave Biggar a conversion that would have secured an improbable late lead.

Instead, he missed the posts and was then punished for a knock-on at the other end, allowing Damian Willemse to settle the match from the tee.

There would have undoubtedly been some relief in the Springboks camp as they were ultimately able to celebrate following their first home game in front of a crowd since winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Trailing 18-3 at half-time, South Africa captain Siya Kolisi acknowledged afterwards: "They [Wales] got under our skin."

There were multiple confrontations between the two sets of players off the ball, and Kolisi added his team "did a couple of things out of character".

When Biggar subsequently faced the media, he could not understand why Wales were expected to shoulder the blame for incidents of this nature.

"I don't know what the referee expected us to do," he said. "Just come here, lie down and give South Africa everything their own way?

"From our point of view, we wanted to try to get in their faces, get in their faces and not take a backwards step. That's part of the game.

"We were coming here, and if you stand off South Africa out here, then you'll get steam-rolled pretty quickly. You need some aggression and competitiveness and get into it.

"I didn't see any issue. They were just as niggly, competitive and as abrasive as we were. From our point of view, that was perfect for us.

"The decisions will be analysed. But from our point of view, I don't understand why people are bothered about it.

"It's a Test match, and we're away from home against the world champions. I'm not quite sure what people expected from us, just roll the carpet out and applaud them off the pitch?

"I don't know what the issue is. It's a Test match and we were more than happy to get stuck into them. That's what Test matches are about.

"I really don't understand. I see it as a non-event. That's exactly what you want from a Test match; you want it confrontational, you want it aggressive.

"There was no dirty play or anything. We just went at it and got confrontational. It worked for us, certainly in the first half.

"I've got no issue whatsoever. Whatever happens on the field, you shake hands afterwards, and there is absolutely zero issue."

World champions South Africa required an 83rd-minute penalty from Damian Willemse to defeat an indisciplined Wales side 32-29 in Pretoria.

The Springboks' first home match in front of a crowd since winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup was an epic – albeit not the sort the South Africa fans might have anticipated.

Despite four yellow cards that saw Wales squander a half-time advantage, Wayne Pivac's men almost rescued a remarkable result, only to be denied at the last.

Two Louis Rees-Zammit tries gave Wales a commanding lead, but Dan Biggar headed to the sin bin shortly before the interval, and Bongi Mbonambi powered over following the restart.

Malcolm Marx also crossed, and the visitors appeared to have collapsed after Cheslin Kolbe's try was followed by a yellow card for Alun Wyn Jones – the awarding of which caused some confusion.

Rees-Zammit went from hero to zero as his desperate attempt to stop a South Africa try saw him join Jones on the sidelines, and Wales were down to 12 men and behind when Rhys Carre's intervention resulted in a penalty try.

But the tourists did not lack spirit and sensationally drew level again through Dewi Lake with 13 on the pitch, only for Biggar to marginally miss the posts with the conversion when he could have secured a late lead.

Instead, Biggar's knock-on at the other end allowed Willemse to kick the Springboks to a memorable triumph to begin this three-Test series, which continues in Bloemfontein next Saturday.

Wales coach Wayne Pivac is hoping for a first good night's sleep in almost four months when his side get their tour of South Africa underway this weekend.

The tourists kick off their three-match series against the world champions at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Saturday in what will be the teams' second meeting since the Springboks won their 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final encounter.

Armed with several players who partook in the British and Irish Lions' tour to the Southern Hemisphere last year, Pivac will have some experienced heads on hand as he hopes to spring a surprise.

But he admits his time spent masterminding his side's prospects after a dismal start to 2022 means he will only rest soundly when the first game is done and dusted.

"I’ll probably get my first decent night's sleep since the end of the Six Nations," he stated. "That's a fact.

"It just doesn't go away. The thing with coaches and players is you're not happy until you get your next win under your belt. It's been a long time between drinks, and of course there is that memory.

"If you finish on winning the Six Nations then it's quite a nice memory, but losing to Italy has been challenging in terms of the pressure you put on yourself as opposed to the pressure others put on you."

Wales have lost their past three matches and are winless in five away from home, sliding to ninth in the world rankings while South Africa retain top spot.

Pivac is aware his side will be the underdogs, adding: "It's understandable. You've got to look at where the two teams are coming from. They're the world champions, in their own backyard, at altitude.

"It's a tough place for anyone to go, and from the outside looking in, from our last performance, you would write us off.

"The main thing is that we haven't written ourselves off. Some of the players look at it, a lot of them are on social media all the time. It's a fact of the game. I don't mind it at all, because it is just people reporting on the facts.

"If you want to argue, play a bit better. That's where we've got to do our arguing and say that we are better than that, don't write us off and then bang."

Ryan Giggs has resigned as manager of the Wales national team.

Giggs stepped back from his role as Wales boss, which he assumed in 2018, in November 2020 after being arrested of suspicion of assault. He was charged with assaulting two women by Greater Manchester Police in April 2021.

The former Manchester United winger was replaced by Robert Page for Wales' campaign at the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, with the caretaker boss since leading the team to qualification for the World Cup later this year.

Giggs was originally due to face trial on January 24 this year after being charged with causing actual bodily harm to a woman in her 30s and common assault of a woman in her 20s, but his case was adjourned until August 8 due to a lack of court space.

The 48-year-old has denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty to the charges, as well as to one count of controlling and coercive behaviour.

He announced on Monday he was stepping down to allow the team to prepare for the World Cup without any distractions.

"After much consideration, I am standing down from my position as manager of the Wales men's national team with immediate effect," read a statement issued by Giggs.

"It has been an honour and a privilege to manage my country, but it is only right that the FAW, the coaching staff and the players prepare for the tournament with certainty, clarification and without speculation around the position of their head coach."

In the statement, widely reported by UK media, Giggs said: "I do not want the country's preparations for the World Cup to be affected, destabilised or jeopardised in any way by the continued interest around this case. I have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed some unforgettable moments during my three years in charge of the national team.

"I am sad that we cannot continue this journey together because I believe that this extraordinary group will make the country proud at our first World Cup since 1958.

"It is my intention to resume my managerial career at a later date and I look forward to watching our national team alongside you in the stands."

In a separate statement, the Football Association of Wales said: "The FAW places on record its gratitude to Ryan Giggs for his tenure as manager of the Cymru men's national team and appreciates the decision he has taken, which is in the best interests of Welsh football.

"The full focus of the FAW and the Cymru men's national team is on the FIFA World Cup in Qatar later this year."

Louis van Gaal was adamant the Netherlands "were entitled to the win" after a late Memphis Depay goal secured a 3-2 victory over Wales.

The hosts looked to be cruising after first-half goals from Noa Lang and Cody Gakpo put them 2-0 up after just 23 minutes.

However, the Dragons appeared to have snatched a point after a Brennan Johnson strike was added to by Gareth Bale's stoppage-time penalty.

Wales were to be left heartbroken, though, as Depay went straight up the other end and scored the winner with a few seconds remaining.

That condemned Wales to their 10th straight defeat against the Dutch, conceding 29 in the process.

It also extended the Oranje's unbeaten streak to 13 games in all competitions as they prepare for the World Cup in Qatar.

Van Gaal, who was left frustrated by some refereeing decisions, felt his team got what they deserved.

"Great that it all turned out like this, I think it's nice to see the way we mentally resisted at 2-2. Although I thought we were entitled to the win. It wasn't a penalty at all for Wales either. I can't believe the referee gave it," Van Gaal told NOS.

 

Turning his attention to the winning goal, which came after a long ball forward straight from kick-off after Bale's penalty, Van Gaal refused to take the credit.

"They had agreed that they were going to do this, I hadn't said anything. It's fantastic that it works out like this," he added.

Depay then applauded the team's mental fortitude as they secured another result against the odds, having come from 2-0 down to draw with Poland and beaten Wales with a stoppage-time winner in their previous two matches.

"It says a lot about the team. We want to win. Once again we showed a great mentality," the Barcelona forward said.

Gareth Bale hailed his team-mates but was left frustrated after a Memphis Depay goal with seconds remaining condemned Wales to a 3-2 defeat.

Bale's side appeared to have earned an unlikely point as a first-half Brennan Johnson goal and an injury-time penalty from their captain made it 2-2 after the Netherlands had gone two goals up.

However, Depay smashed home a last-gasp finish to earn the hosts all three points and keep Wales bottom of Group A4 and winless.

While Wales will be hoping to take plenty of lessons from this Nations League campaign ahead of the World Cup, Bale did not hide his frustration at being unable to secure a morale-boosting draw.

"It's hard to take but I'd rather this happen now and we address it than it happen at the World Cup," Bale told BBC Sport after the game.

"Of course we are disappointed we conceded late, but we're competing with these big teams in every game now."

Wales have now lost three of their last five matches in all competitions, while they have lost all 10 internationals against the Netherlands, conceding 29 goals in the process.

But Bale was optimistic, stating: "It's just the finer details we need to iron out. If we can do that it will put us in a good place for the World Cup."

Wales are not in action now until September, when attention will turn to trying to rescue their Nations League campaign in preparation for their first appearance at a World Cup since 1958.

Bale, meanwhile, will now have his focus on finding a club ahead of the new season.

The former Real Madrid forward laughed off the suggestion he could join Getafe, with Cardiff City having been linked with the 32-year-old.

Memphis Depay snatched a 3-2 Nations League victory for the Netherlands as late drama in Rotterdam denied Wales, who thought a late Gareth Bale penalty had secured a point.

First-half goals from Cody Gakpo and Noa Lang put the hosts two up, but a Brennan Johnson goal and a stoppage-time Bale spot-kick looked to have earned Wales a draw.

However, Oranje talisman Depay subsequently grabbed a winner to spark wild celebrations in the home ranks.

A third victory in four matches at the end of a long season continued a strong Nations League campaign for the Netherlands, who remain top of the group while Wales are bottom and winless.

 

Wales great and former British and Irish Lions captain Phil Bennett has died aged 73.

Bennett is widely regarded as one of the best fly-halves to ever play for Wales, making 29 appearances for his country and helping them to two Five Nations grand slams and three triple crowns.

He was also an integral figure on the unbeaten British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa in 1974, while he enjoyed 20 outings with the Barbarians.

Bennett, who was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2005, was also just the second Welshman to captain the Lions on their 1977 visit to New Zealand.

Former club Scarlets confirmed the passing of their president on Sunday, with executive chairman Simon Muderack saying: "As a club, region and community, we are devastated by this news.

"Wherever the Scarlets travel around the world, people mention the name Phil Bennett. He was an icon of our sport, a rugby superstar, but someone who always remembered his roots.

"There was no finer ambassador of Scarlets Rugby than Phil, a player respected across the rugby world, both during his career and long after he finished playing.

"Phil was a hero and friend to so many people, not only in Llanelli and west Wales, but throughout the game and I am sure a lot of Scarlets supporters will have their own particular stories of the times they met and chatted to 'Benny'. He loved the club and epitomised the values we hold true – humility and pride in our community.

"On behalf of everyone at the Scarlets, we send our heartfelt condolences to Pat, Steven, James and all of Phil's family and friends at this incredibly sad time."

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