Gareth Bale is hopeful Wales can use their hard-fought 1-1 draw against Switzerland in their opening Euro 2020 match as a springboard to push on.

Kieffer Moore headed in 16 minutes from time to cancel out Breel Embolo's opener in Saturday's Group A clash at the Baku Olympic Stadium.

Switzerland managed double the number of shots than Wales and had a Mario Gavranovic goal ruled out by VAR late on, but Moore rescued the Dragons a potentially huge point.

Wales have now lost just one of their last 14 competitive games – against Belgium in March – and Bale is pleased with his side's attitude to battle back in the blistering Baku heat.

"Both teams tried to play. It was a little bit tense, but it's not a bad result and we take the positives," Bale told BBC Sport. "We wanted to win the game and had chances, but so did they.  

"When you go 1-0 down and you can crumble but we showed a lot of grit and character like always and we showed our class to fight back and get the goal.

"We worked very hard. It's hard in this heat. I'm proud of the boys. After the match we said we need to use this as a springboard.

"We now need to recover and move onto the next game."

That next game for Wales is once again in Baku against Turkey, who were beaten 3-0 against heavyweights Italy on Friday in the opening match of the tournament.

Like captain Bale, Wales' caretaker boss Rob Page believes his side can take confidence from the point gained against Switzerland.

"We wanted a positive start and it feels like a win in the changing room. We had to dig deep at the end and we had a bit of Lady Luck," he told BBC Sport.

"Turkey are a different opposition to what we've faced today, but we will have to be solid and well organised again.

"Italy have quality in abundance and we respect Turkey too. It's all about focusing on that now and we will be preparing for that test now.

"That's the foundations. If we need to dig in we will but we've proved we can play."

Moore's goal was his sixth for Wales in 18 appearances, four of those being scored with his head.

Page recalled the Cardiff City striker to his starting line-up in a big tactical decision that ultimately paid dividends.

"Kieffer has been terrific at international and club level," added Page.

"He's got a great touch and his link-up play is great. He's got all his attributes for a centre-forward and has given us the rewards today."

Switzerland are now unbeaten in their last six European Championship games in normal time, but Vladimir Petkovic's men had enough chances to pick up all three points against Wales.

Goalscorer Embolo, whose six shots was the most ever attempted by a Switzerland player in a single European Championship match, admits the draw is a disappointing result.

"I feel a bit of frustration as we had the chances for the second goal but didn't take them," he said.

"Perhaps we were too passive after the first goal. We deserved the win, but it turned out to be a draw and that's a pity.

"But we have to take the positives, rest up, focus on the next game and bring the good things from this match into the next one."

Kieffer Moore headed home to earn Wales a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in their opening Group A match at the Baku Olympic Stadium.

The Cardiff City striker was recalled to Wales' starting line-up for Saturday's clash and justified interim boss Rob Page's selection call by earning his side a crucial point.

Switzerland had won their previous six games and were on course for another victory when Breel Embolo guided in Xherdan Shaqiri's corner early in the second half.

However, Vladimir Petkovic's side could not hold on and were further frustrated late on when substitute Mario Gavranovic had a goal ruled out for offside.

The draw leaves Italy top of Group A following their 3-0 win over Turkey in Rome on Friday.

Wales started the match brightly and went close to opening the scoring 15 minutes in through a Moore header that Yann Sommer did well to push over the crossbar.

Danny Ward was called into action up the other end to deny Fabian Schar after the centre-back turned Shaqiri's corner on target with a smart flick.

Switzerland soon took control of possession and squandered another big chance before half-time when Haris Seferovic fired off target from seven yards once teed up by Embolo.

The two men combined early in the second half as Seferovic played in his team-mate to race through and force Ward into a second big save of the contest.

However, Embolo held off Connor Roberts from the subsequent corner and headed Shaqiri's delivery past Ward into the bottom-left corner.

Kevin Mbabu scuffed wide from a good position and Switzerland struggled to make more of their possession, which would come back to haunt them 16 minutes from time.

Joe Morrell sent in a cross from the right and Moore, a presence at both ends of the field throughout, glanced a header in to get Wales off the mark.

Gavranovic thought he had won the game for Switzerland moments after being introduced from the bench, but his left-footed strike was ruled out.

Gareth Bale accepts there will inevitably be pressure on Wales to perform when they get their Euro 2020 campaign underway against Switzerland.

Wales were beaten 2-0 by eventual winners Portugal after a stirring campaign in 2016 in which they came top of their group and defeated Belgium 3-1 in the quarter-finals. Indeed, they were the first tournament debutants to reach the semi-finals since Sweden in 1992.

Bale is one of eight survivors from that squad to make Robert Page's selection, who begin a challenging Group A against Switzerland in Baku before facing Turkey and Italy.

Wales reached the quarter-finals in each of their previous two major tournaments, the other being the 1958 World Cup, but hopes are not quite as high for a side who averaged only 1.25 goals per game in qualifying, the joint-lowest among the 24 finalists alongside North Macedonia.

They are also facing a Switzerland side who reached the last 16 of the previous Euros and the 2018 World Cup, and who are on a five-game unbeaten run at this tournament (they were knocked out last time by Poland on penalties).

Still, Bale – Wales' all-time top scorer with 33 goals, who finished the Premier League season with a competition-high rate of a goal every 84 minutes – does not appear overburdened by any extra pressure to perform.

"It's similar [to Euro 2016] coming into the tournament," he said. "On the back of 2016 there should be expectations, but it's a different team and a different tournament.

"We know it's a difficult group to get out of. They are all difficult teams to play against, but we've got to take one game at a time.

"We are very excited to be here and one day away. I feel fine and ready to give 100 per cent for my country, as I always do."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Wales – Dan James

Bale and Aaron Ramsey remain the star names for Wales, just as they were five years ago in that famous run to the final four, but Manchester United winger James offers a little more of the unknown at this level. While he only started 11 Premier League games last season, the 23-year-old created three chances and provided a fine assist for Anthony Elanga against Wolves on the final day, all from the wide-left position he tends to adopt for his country.

James also scored Wales' most recent goal, securing a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic in World Cup qualifying in March.

Switzerland – Xherdan Shaqiri

Unhappy with his playing time at Liverpool, the Euros represent a good chance for Shaqiri either to convince Jurgen Klopp of his worth or to secure a transfer elsewhere.

With five goals and two assists, Shaqiri has been directly involved in 47 per cent of Switzerland's goals at major tournaments since the 2014 World Cup and is just nine caps short of becoming the fifth player to win 100 for the Nati. Born in Gjilan to Kosovar Albanian parents, the 29-year-old is the beating heart of a polyglot squad of great ethnic diversity, and one then befits a tournament being staged right across the continent.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This is the first meeting between Wales and Switzerland at a major tournament (World Cup and European Championship). In all competitions including friendlies, Switzerland have won five of their seven encounters (L2) but their last meeting in October 2011 ended in a Wales victory (2-0 at Swansea's Liberty Stadium in Euro 2012 qualfying). 
- Switzerland have scored more than one goal in only one of their 13 games at the European Championship, a 2-0 win on home soil against Portugal in the 2008 group stages.
- Gareth Bale has scored in each of his two previous appearances against Switzerland (two goals in two games).
- Aaron Ramsey was directly involved in 50 per cent of Wales' goals in their last major tournament at Euro 2016, scoring one and assisting a further four.
- Vladimir Petkovic – in charge since August 2014 – is only the second coach to lead Switzerland at three consecutive major tournaments, after Kobi Kuhn (Euro 2004, World Cup 2006, Euro 2008).

It was billed as the Eden Hazard show: Belgium's global star was back in Lille, the north-eastern French town where he made his name, a stone's throw from the Belgian border.

Instead, the Euro 2016 quarter-final between Wales and Belgium was dominated not by the number 10 in blue, but in red.

Aaron Ramsey produced the finest performance of his career on that unforgettable night as Wales achieved the greatest result in their history, fighting back from a goal down to win 3-1 and reach the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time.

"That Belgium game was a historic moment for us, for Wales," Ramsey said this week. "Obviously, that's going to live in people's memories for a long, long time. We started a bit shaky, they scored a screamer, but we settled down and played some unbelievable stuff. That was definitely a great night."

It was certainly the greatest individual display Ramsey had ever delivered. He created five goalscoring chances in the first half alone, more than any other player, and ended the game with two assists – the first time a British player had done so at the Euros since David Beckham for England against Portugal 16 years earlier.

He also picked up a yellow card – almost literally, since he was punished for a deliberate handball – that meant he was suspended for the semi-finals. It was such a brutal blow to Wales' hopes of beating Portugal that fans unsuccessfully petitioned UEFA to rescind it prior to their 2-0 defeat.

We have not seen Ramsey play at an international tournament since. Nor, indeed, have we seen him reach such a level of performance in the past five years. So, what can we expect from him at Euro 2020?

 

'Every international team would love a player like Aaron'

The Belgium game was the zenith of a brilliant tournament for Ramsey, one in which he was directly involved in half of Wales' 10 goals from group stage to final four.

His two assists in the quarter-final, a corner for Ashley Williams' equaliser and a sublime touch and cross for that Hal Robson-Kanu turn and finish, took him to four for the tournament, a joint-record at the Euros along with Hazard in 2016 and Ljubinko Drulovic in 2000.

After creating 23 chances in qualifying, more than any other Wales player, Ramsey built on those standards at the finals in that roving role assigned to him by Chris Coleman. He created 15 chances at Euro 2016, a tally beaten by only five players, and at an average of just over three per 90 minutes. Seven of those chances were created following carries – a run with the ball of more than five metres – which was second only to Hazard (10) among midfielders.

Ramsey was top six for passes into the penalty area (40) and touches in the opponents' box (16), with six of his 10 shots hitting the target, the highest rate of any player to reach double figures for attempts. Yet there was so much to admire about Ramsey's less glamourous work, too: he attempted the same number of tackles as N'Golo Kante (12) and averaged 14.9 duels per 90 minutes. Among midfielders to play in at least five games, only two posted fractionally better numbers, the highest being Paul Pogba on 15.1.

Joe Ledley, a team-mate of Ramsey from their teenage years at Cardiff City to that famous night in Lille, knows exactly what the Juventus man brings.

"He's a special player who will drift around midfield," Ledley told Stats Perform. "He's an opposition midfielder's nightmare because he will chase, he'll go behind them and then he'll come short.

"Against Belgium, he was just flowing, against quality players as well and that just proves how good he is. That's why he deserves to be at a team like Juventus and hopefully, he'll play a little bit more.

"For me, he was probably one of our best players at the Euros. As an outsider looking in, without Aaron, they're not as good. Every international team would love a player like Aaron, and we're blessed to have him. The players will love working with him because he's such a good player and links up the play from midfield and helps out by doing the dirty work as well.

"Hopefully, he can just stay fit and we can see him again in the Euros and see how well he does."

 

'It's been quite a challenging time'

Ramsey started 34 times for Arsenal in all competitions prior to the Euros. It remains the highest number he has managed in a single season in his club career.

Injury problems stopped Ramsey from consistently hitting top form for the Gunners. Despite 64 goals in 369 appearances, including an FA Cup final winner against Hull City in 2014, he never quite became a fan favourite at Emirates Stadium as he struggled to string regular runs of games together.

Those problems have continued at Juventus, whom he joined on a free transfer two years ago after accepting a contract offer reported by some to be worth £400,000 per week. Further injuries, along with changes in coaches and systems, have not helped his cause; six goals and five assists in 33 starts over two seasons is a modest return for a player of Ramsey's calibre and rumoured wages.

The problems have manifested for Wales, too: Ramsey has played in just 19 of their 44 games since Euro 2016 and missed training on Thursday, just 48 hours out from their opening game against Switzerland.

"It's been quite a challenging time over the last couple of seasons," said Ramsey, who has employed his own personal fitness team to get ready for Euro 2020. "Many factors and changes that I haven't been used to.

"I've got my own team around me who are focused on me, to get myself into the best possible shape. Obviously, football is a team sport and a lot of the time it is about the team and everybody doing the same things, when maybe some players need a bit more attention.

"So, I take it into my own hands really and I have the right people around me to try to come up with the best possible plan for me to get myself back into a place where I am feeling good and confident again."

Confidence and form invariably go hand in hand. Ramsey exuded such belief five years ago that even Hazard wilted in his shadow at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, and his place in UEFA's team of the tournament seemed secure even as he left the pitch knowing he would not be involved in the next game.

Not many predict Wales can match their achievements in France but, with Ramsey fit and firing alongside Gareth Bale, Ledley is not ruling out a few surprises.

"I think Bale has missed Aaron quite a lot because he's been struggling with injury," he said. "Those two, when they're on their game, they're unstoppable."

Euro 2020 is just days away, and that means the rumour mill is about to go into overdrive.

International tournaments always represent something of a showcase for clubs seeking reinforcements and this year will be no different, even if the impact of the pandemic means spending may not quite reach levels of old.

There will be several players eager to impress at these finals: some will be long-term targets out to justify the hype, while others will be seeking a new challenge as contracts begin to wind down.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform has compiled a list of some of the candidates vying to be front and centre of this particular shop window...

 

Belgium: Jeremy Doku

One of Belgium's less-known attacking stars, Jeremy Doku was directly involved in 10 goals in the Jupiler League by the time he was 18 years and 115 days old, a record bettered only by Romelu Lukaku.

Previously wanted by Liverpool, the Rennes forward could become a target for Jurgen Klopp – thought to be exploring new attacking options – should he be given the chance to impress by Roberto Martinez.

Croatia: Bruno Petkovic

"Bruno Petkovic has to be at Euro 2020 what [Mario] Mandzukic was in Russia," said Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic last month. No pressure, then.

Still, the Dinamo Zagreb forward impressed in last season's Europa League with four goals in nine starts and could represent a relatively low-cost option in the market.

England: Jadon Sancho

The star performer as Borussia Dortmund won the DFB-Pokal final, Jadon Sancho was the first English player since David Beckham 20 years ago to register at least 10 assists for three seasons in a row in Europe's top-five leagues.

Manchester United continue to be mooted as the winger's most likely destination should he leave Dortmund, but a star turn at the Euros could trigger a bidding war among some of the biggest clubs.

France: Jules Kounde

Getting into the France starting line-up is no easy task these days, but Jules Kounde could well force Didier Deschamps' hand given the qualities he brings to centre-back.

An accomplished stopper, the Sevilla man is also impeccable on the ball: he made 887 forward passes in LaLiga last season, the most of any outfield player. Little wonder that Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have all been linked.

Germany: Florian Neuhaus

Given he has been linked with Bayern Munich for months now, Florian Neuhaus must be doing something right.

The 108th Germany debutant under Joachim Low, the Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder could well find himself in high demand in the transfer window should he earn a regular spot at the Euros.

Italy: Manuel Locatelli

The heartbeat of a vibrant Sassuolo side, Manuel Locatelli in January became the first Italian player born after January 1, 1998 to record 10 Serie A assists.

Juventus are considered his likely next destination, but there are reports of interest from the Premier League, which would likely only increase in number should he shine at the Euros.

Netherlands: Memphis Depay

It appears likely Memphis Depay will leave Lyon for Barcelona on a free transfer, but, as long as that deal is not concluded, other clubs may sense the chance to snap up the forward.

Depay just became the first Lyon player to register at least 20 goals and 10 assists in a single Ligue 1 season since at least 2006-07 and looks like one of the Oranje's form players.

Poland: Kacper Kozlowski

At just 17, Kacper Kozlowski has established himself in the Pogon Szczecin first team, something made all-the-more remarkable given he was badly injured in a car crash in January 2020.

Although a name not well known outside Poland, the midfielder has been scouted by Manchester United and interest across the continent could well pick up after this tournament.

 

Portugal: Nuno Mendes

Considered one of Portugal's brightest prospects, Nuno Mendes has already been linked with the Manchester clubs after shining for Sporting CP.

Interest in the 18-year-old is only likely to increase should he perform well at the Euros, especially if he ousts Raphael Guerreiro from the side, and Sporting would surely be prepared to sell for a handsome fee.

 

Russia: Denis Cheryshev

Zero goas in 21 games for Valencia in LaLiga last season underlined a frustrating spell for Denis Cheryshev at club level.

The 30-year-old was Russia's star performer at the World Cup three years ago, though, and the Euros offer a good chance to tempt any possible suitors as he considers his future.

Spain: Pau Torres

Pau Torres was at the heart of Villarreal's Europa League triumph. In fact, he made nine appearances without being dribbled past, a single-season tally only bettered twice in the competition's history.

The centre-back has made it clear he is happy at the club, but strong performances for Spain could tempt suitors including Manchester United to test Villarreal's resolve to keep him.

Sweden: Alexander Isak

Linked with Barcelona during the season, Real Sociedad's Alexander Isak broke Zlatan Ibrahimovic's record for most goals by a Swede in a single LaLiga campaign by scoring 17 in 2020-21.

With Ibrahimovic missing these finals due to injury, 21-year-old Isak has a good opportunity to impress on the international stage.

Switzerland: Denis Zakaria

With his contract expiring next year, Denis Zakaria could be a more affordable midfield signing for any clubs willing to tempt Borussia Monchengladbach into a sale.

The 24-year-old offers great variety to the Switzerland midfield and English sides are expected to be watching him closely at these finals.

Ukraine: Ruslan Malinovskiy

Ruslan Malinovskiy is another Atalanta player to catch the eye under Gian Piero Gasperini. He was directly involved in a goal every 94 minutes in Serie A in 2020-21, the most of any midfielder to play at least 15 times.

Now 28, this could be his best chance to secure a significant transfer should he decide to leave Bergamo, and there have been rumblings of interest from Chelsea.

Wales: Gareth Bale

With 11 goals in 10 Premier League starts in 2020-21, Gareth Bale registered the best minutes-per-goal ratio (84) of any of the competition's top goalscorers.

He is returning to Real Madrid following his loan at Tottenham and Carlo Ancelotti appears keen to keep him, but heroics for Wales could encourage suitors to bid.

Gareth Bale has backed Carlo Ancelotti to be "amazing" in his second spell in charge at Real Madrid, though the Wales international has reiterated he will not reveal his own future until after Euro 2020.

Ancelotti has returned to the Santiago Bernabeu to replace Zinedine Zidane, leaving Everton to undertake a second spell at a club where he previously spent two years in charge.

Bale was in the squad that won the Champions League under the Italian in 2014, scoring Madrid's second goal as they defeated Atletico Madrid 4-1 in the final to secure 'La Decima'.

However, the forward fell out of favour under Zidane and spent the 2020-21 season back on loan at Tottenham, scoring 16 goals in 34 appearances in all competitions.

It remains unclear if he has a future with Los Blancos, though, even with a familiar face now back in charge.

"He's returned to Real Madrid and he's a great guy," Bale said about Ancelotti in an interview with Sky Sports.

"We had a great time together at Real Madrid and I'm sure he's going to be amazing in charge there.

"I spoke to him when we played Everton at the start of the season, we hugged and had a little chat which was nice.

"But I'm still in the same boat and haven't thought about it too much. I'm concentrated on our preparation now and what's going to happen in the Euros. I'll sort the rest of it after."

Wales take on Albania in a friendly on Saturday before beginning their Euro 2020 campaign against Switzerland on June 16. They also have group games against Turkey and Italy, too.

After scoring twice on the final day of the Premier League season in a 4-2 win at Leicester City, Bale said he already knew what was in store for next season but did not want to cause "chaos" by making an announcement.

"It will have to happen after the Euros. I know what I'm doing but it'll just cause chaos if I say anything," he told Sky Sports after the game at the King Power Stadium.

Spurs are still looking to appoint a new head coach, with former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte - who left Inter after winning the Serie A title - strongly linked with the vacancy.

The year-long delay to Euro 2020 has shifted the narrative for a host of stars, and meant the long wait for a return to the big stage has been extended for others.

Now, though, Europe's elite are set to battle it out as Portugal defend the title they won in France five years ago.

Some players enter the competition in great form and with little baggage, but for others this month-long tournament is a chance to make a big splash, or live up to long-held expectations.

Here, Stats Perform looks at two famous footballing nations, four big-name stars and a coach who bows out of his current job and may have designs on his next assignment.

Gareth Bale: Finished or a new beginning?

The wing wizard can do little wrong in the eyes of Wales and Tottenham supporters, and perhaps now there is a glimmer of hope for his Real Madrid career.

At the end of a season-long loan at Spurs, it seemed likely Bale would head back to Madrid and spend the final year of his contract largely on the sidelines. His future looked to be one of training, playing the odd Copa del Rey game and making fleeting LaLiga appearances, and spending his happiest hours on the region's best golf courses.

Now that Zinedine Zidane has moved on, that could change all of a sudden, and Bale has an immediate chance to make an impression on new Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti when he captains Wales at the Euros.

Bale joined Madrid in 2013, when Ancelotti was embarking on his first spell at the Santiago Bernabeu, but his career in Spain looked to have all but conked out 12 months ago.

The door certainly seems open for the 31-year-old to do just that as, in his presentation news conference at Madrid, Ancelotti said: "Gareth has not played much in the Premier League [in 2020-21], but he scored lots of goals, and was very effective in recent games when he had a chance to play.

"He is coming back, I know him very well, he will be motivated to play better and have a great season, no doubt."

At Spurs, he scored 16 goals across all competitions at an average of one every 104.44 minutes, and his match fitness appeared to be building up nicely when the season ended.

Bale exceeded his expected goals (xG) total of 11.07 quite handsomely, and for the first time since the 2015-16 season he scored more goals than he had big chances.

He had 15 such chances, defined by Opta as situations "where a player should reasonably be expected to score".

Bale is said by some observers to be considering retiring after Euro 2020, but that could be a waste of a still-luminous talent and Ancelotti is sure to be closely watching.

Eden Hazard: Brilliant Belgian has been a Real disappointment

So often sparkling for Belgium and Chelsea in the past, Hazard has left Madrid supporters wondering what has happened to that fizz since he landed in Spain.

He started just seven games in LaLiga in the season just ended, a string of muscle injuries and a spell out with COVID-19 ruining his campaign.

When fit enough to feature, the forward's numbers have been way down on those that he produced – to take a pertinent example – during Belgium's Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

A fair way of assessing his figures is to look at how Hazard contributes for every 90 minutes he is involved with club and country, and the comparison between his displays in Belgium's run to reach this tournament and in 2020-21 at Madrid shows an alarming dip.

His chances created total per 90 minutes falls from 4.6 to 1.0, his number of touches of the ball slides from 95.1 to 73.8, and his dribbles attempted plummet from 7.4 with Belgium to 4.2 in Madrid's season.

His involvements in shot-ending sequences of play fall from 10.8 to 4.9 per 90 minutes, and analysis of goal-ending sequences shows his contribution drops from 1.9 with Belgium to 0.8 per 90 minutes with Madrid.

It bears remembering that Hazard has not had the run of games that would give him full match fitness. If Real Madrid fans want any succour, they can find it in his Belgium statistics and must hope the coming month sees the 30-year-old roll back his form a couple of years.

A fit and firing Hazard would be a huge asset to Ancelotti, who is expecting the former Chelsea star to have an impact next term.

"Hazard is a top player, he has had injury problems, and not shown his top potential yet here," Ancelotti said. "I believe he can do that next year, he wants to, is motivated."

 

Karim Benzema: Have France really missed him?

Nobody doubts Benzema's ability or his current form. Firing 23 goals for Real Madrid in LaLiga showed he is coming into Euro 2020 in great shape.

The thing is: few expected him to play any part in this tournament.

Off-field matters and an impending court case have seen Benzema frozen out by France, the 33-year-old sidelined from international duty since 2015 following allegations he had a part in a plot to blackmail former Les Bleus player Mathieu Valbuena.

Benzema strenuously denies any wrongdoing and for the duration of Euro 2020 he will aim to show what France have been missing in his absence. They managed to win the 2018 World Cup without him, and reach the final of Euro 2016, yet coach Didier Deschamps has decided his team need Benzema's presence for the coming month.

It could be a masterstroke or could go disastrously wrong, with France a national team who have combusted before during a big tournament.

Benzema last year made the snippy remark that Olivier Giroud was a go-kart and he, by contrast, was a Formula One car, but now they are rivals for selection.

Squad harmony is vital at any major championship, and Benzema's presence brings that little extra frisson. This gamble could go either way. Watching him and France will be fascinating.

Marcus Rashford: Making his pitch for a better England

Manchester United striker Rashford has been a pandemic social justice warrior, emerging as an inspirational figure as he battled for school children to avoid food poverty.

There is so much to admire about the 23-year-old Mancunian, who has also faced – and faced down – appalling racism on social media.

It would take a cold, cruel heart to begrudge Rashford a major moment on the pitch now, and that could come with England over the coming weeks.

On the international scene since just before Euro 2016, Rashford is now fixtures-and-fittings within the Three Lions set-up, but he has still yet to score at a World Cup or European Championship.

Before June's pre-Euros friendlies he had 40 caps and 11 goals and will want to improve his so-so goals-to-games ratio, which is partly explained by the fact only 20 of those caps came as a starter.

Golden Boot winner Harry Kane carried so much of the scoring burden for England at the last World Cup, and sometimes it takes two. Rashford scored three times in Euro 2020 qualifying and is coming off a 21-goal campaign with United, scoring on average once every 197.76 minutes.

The man who is effecting positive change in the way many live their lives, influencing politicians and shaping a better future for millions, could now do his country a massive favour on the football field.

 

Scotland: They're back, thanks to Mourinho's former right-hand man

Few in the Scotland team are long enough in the teeth to remember the last time the Tartan Army descended on a major tournament.

It was 1998, with the Scots giving Brazil a major test in the opening game at the Stade de France. A draw followed against Norway followed the 2-1 loss to the Selecao, before a dismal defeat to Morocco meant the campaign ended in crushing disappointment.

Hopes have flickered and foundered in the decades since, but Steve Clarke, once an assistant boss to Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, has led his team back to the big time.

With the likes of Andy Robertson, Scott McTominay and Che Adams, they possess Premier League quality, and two games Hampden promise to be nourishing for the soul.

Scotland is an expectant nation. That tends to end in intense disappointment at major tournaments, but optimism abounds as the games approach, the June 18 clash with England at Wembley ringed in the diary.

Italy: Blue skies again for Azzurri

It felt absurd that Italy should be absent from the 2018 World Cup, but they failed the meritocracy test of qualification when losing a play-off to Sweden.

That meant they were absent from football's great global gathering for the first time since 1958, and coach Gian Piero Ventura was swiftly given the heave-ho.

Enter Roberto Mancini, the former Inter and Manchester City boss who has led a scorching revival of the Azzurri, a team who won all 10 of their qualifiers and headed into June on a 26-game unbeaten run.

Wales, Turkey and Switzerland are the group-stage opposition for Italy, and the Turkey game in Istanbul gets the tournament underway.

They are a team perhaps without a superstar, but as Paolo Rossi and Toto Schillaci would attest, iconic Italian figures can emerge on the big stage.

Joachim Low: Hit for six, Germany go back to the future

After 15 years, Low will step down as Germany head coach following these finals. Many in Germany think he should have stepped aside already, but Low has powerful support within the DFB, the national federation.

A 6-0 defeat to Spain in the Nations League last November felt like an appalling nadir, with Germany outshot 23-2 in Seville and having just 30 per cent of possession.

Something had to change and it has, with Low summoning Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels out of the international exile he harshly imposed on the experienced pair over two years ago.

Low felt he could do without their talents but it proved a major misstep, and for Germany's sake they are back. What Low does next remains to be seen, but a strong Euro 2020 campaign with Germany would bolster his chances of landing any elite club job.

The 61-year-old was a World Cup winner seven years ago, but the most immediately telling part of his legacy will be written during this European summer.

Karim Benzema expressed pride to have ended his near six-year exile from the France national side in Wednesday's friendly with 10-man Wales, but admitted there is room for improvement after missing a penalty in the 3-0 win.

The 33-year-old failed to convert a first-half spot-kick at the Allianz Riviera and hit the post in the build-up to Ousmane Dembele's late strike after Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann had put France on course for a routine win.

That was Benzema's third penalty miss in a row for his national side, having also failed to convert against Switzerland and Sweden in 2014.

However, on what was Benzema's first appearance for the world champions in five years and 237 days, the Real Madrid striker is pleased with how things went overall.

"There is a lot of pride and joy after that," he told TF1. "I had a good feeling going into the match after a good week of work and training. It's all about gaining momentum.

"It's been a difficult season with lots of matches. I feel good and that bodes well for the future.

"A match can often be like this with missed chances. The main thing is to create them and learn to do better next time."

Benzema may have endured a largely frustrating game in Nice, but he showed promising link-up play with goalscorers Mbappe and Griezmann in a star-studded front three.

"We tried hard," he said. "It's not easy against teams that use five defenders and play with a low block. That is something we will have to work on in training.

"But overall it was a good match. We worked hard and that is the most important thing today."

Mbappe's breakthrough goal for France arrived seven minutes after Benzema's penalty miss, awarded for Neco Williams' handball in front of goal that also resulted in a red card for the Wales defender.

France looked comfortable from that point on, with Griezmann curling home a second goal early in the second period and substitute Dembele tapping in a third.

The front three of Griezmann, Benzema and Mbappe will be arguably the most feared at the upcoming Euro 2020 finals, and head coach Didier Deschamps is happy to give the trio "complete freedom" up top.

"Karim was unhappy not to score but he was always there," Deschamps told TF1. "A goal would have made both him happy, and me too, but there's no harm in keeping them for later.

"There is no fixed position for the three attackers. I give them complete freedom. Their profiles are complementary. 

"Obviously when the ball is lost they know what needs to be done – they cannot disconnect from the others.

France's victory was their 19th in 24 matches and they now take on Bulgaria in their final friendly fixture ahead of facing Germany, Hungary and Portugal in a daunting Euro 2020 group.

"There's lots of good things to take out of this game," Deschamps said after seeing his side keep a third clean sheet in a row for the first time since October 2017.

"Obviously Wales had one less player and that made our jobs easier. We had lots of chances and it's good to conclude our first week together with this win. On another day the win could have been bigger, but it's a good start."

Karim Benzema missed a penalty and hit the post on his return to the France side, but the hosts took advantage of Neco Williams' contentious red card to beat 10-man Wales 3-0 in Wednesday's friendly at the Allianz Riviera.

Real Madrid striker Benzema was making his first international appearance since October 2015 in a star-studded starting line-up that also included Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, who both found the net.

Mbappe opened the scoring from close range shortly after Benzema had his penalty saved by Danny Ward following Williams' handball – an infringement that also saw the Liverpool youngster sent off after a lengthy VAR check.

Fellow forward Griezmann doubled France's tally early in the second half and substitute Ousmane Dembele added a third as the world champions saw out the job in their penultimate match before beginning their Euro 2020 campaign.

Benzema had a glancing header well saved by Ward and the Wales goalkeeper was then equal to the returning striker's spot-kick with a little under half an hour played in Nice.

However, Wales were down to 10 men at that point as Williams was harshly sent off for deliberately handling the ball in front of goal when blocking Benzema's shot, coming after Ward had produced another stop to keep out Paul Pogba.

France made the most of the extra man seven minutes later as Mbappe got his boot to a loose ball first following Ward's low save to keep out Adrien Rabiot's deflected effort.

Griezmann gave the hosts some breathing space with a curled finish into the top-left corner with 47 minutes played after some nice link-up play with Mbappe.

Dan James was played in by substitute Aaron Ramsey and forced Hugo Lloris into a rare save, with that proving to be Wales' best chance of ending a run that now spans eight away friendly matches without scoring.

There was still time for France to add a third goal late on through Dembele's simple finish after Benzema's shot crashed back off the post and into his path.

Karim Benzema was included in France's starting line-up for Wednesday's friendly with Wales in Nice, ending the Real Madrid striker's near six-year absence from the side.

The 33-year-old's most recent appearance for Les Blues came in October 2015 when scoring a brace against Armenia, taking his tally to 27 goals in 81 international appearances.

He then became embroiled in a blackmail scandal involving France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena - Benzema has denied the claims and is due to stand trial on the charge of complicity in attempted blackmail in October - and was subsequently overlooked by Didier Deschamps.

That was until last month, however, when Benzema was surprisingly recalled to the squad ahead of the Euro 2020 finals after holding face-to-face talks with Deschamps.

The prolific striker's recall comes on the back of a campaign in which he scored 30 goals for Madrid in all competitions, 23 of those in LaLiga – behind only Barcelona's Lionel Messi (30).

Some 68 months on from his last outing for France, Benzema was back involved on Wednesday in a star-studded front three alongside Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe.

The friendly at Allianz Riviera also marked a special occasion for Hugo Lloris, who was captaining his national side from the start of a game for the 100th time.

That is 46 more than any other player in Les Bleus history, with Deschamps next on the list.

Chelsea's Champions League-winning trio Kurt Zouma, N'Golo Kante and Olivier Giroud were not involved, while Thomas Lemar was also absent through injury.

Wales also named a strong line-up for their penultimate match before the European Championship finals get under way, with Gareth Bale captaining his side.

Gareth Bale wants to inspire another famous Wales tournament odyssey at Euro 2020 before he returns to the Real Madrid ranks next season.

The €100million man played a leading role as Wales reached the semi-finals of the last European Championship in 2016.

Widely unfancied before that tournament, Wales were only denied a place in the final by eventual champions Portugal as Cristiano Ronaldo got one over his then Madrid team-mate Bale.

Now Wales go again on the big stage, with Bale coming off a strong finish to the season on loan at Tottenham.

He finished the campaign with 16 goals and three assists in 34 games, starting just 19 of those matches but showing enough flickers of his best form to suggest there is more to come from the 31-year-old. He far exceeded his expected goals (xG) score of 11.07 and converted 11 of 15 goal opportunities defined by Opta as 'big chances' (73.3 per cent).

Reminded of Wales' stellar run five years ago, Bale said: "We'd love to replicate it, but we're realistic. We know it's a different tournament, playing different teams. We also have a very different team to what we did have.

"So it's going to be difficult going into it against these top nations, but we're confident in our own ability and what we can do on the pitch, and we'll be doing everything we can on and off the pitch to try and make as much a success of it as we can."

Bale became a fringe figure at Madrid under Zinedine Zidane's leadership, but with the Frenchman having left Los Blancos, there is the chance of a fresh start in LaLiga for the winger. The flag he held up bearing the slogan 'Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order', when Wales qualified for this tournament, caused uproar in Spain, yet a fit Bale could still be an asset to Zidane's successor.

His first season back at Madrid after Euro 2016 proved underwhelming, with Bale hit by injuries and managing just nine goals in 27 games, failing to exceed his expected goals (xG) mark of 9.32, having done so in two of his previous three campaigns at the Santiago Bernabeu.

A significantly better campaign followed – 21 goals from an xG of 15.82, including a double off the bench against Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final – but Bale was drifting away from being a regular starter.

He will captain Wales in the upcoming finals, with their opening game coming against Switzerland on June 12 in Baku.

Wales then face Turkey, also in Baku, before heading to Rome to tackle Italy.

After a tremendous quarter-final victory over Belgium at Euro 2016, there will be optimism in the Welsh ranks that something special can be achieved again.

This time, unlike in France in 2016, Wales will have to cope without the songs and the support of their fans in the group stage.

The UK government is advising against all but essential travel to Azerbaijan and Italy.

Bale believes the players will have a good idea of the atmosphere back home in Wales, which would be particularly fervent if the team find a winning knack again.

"I think with everything in terms of the media and even speaking to your friends on Whatsapp, you'll get a gist of what's going on back home," Bale said, speaking as Wales finalised their 26-man squad for the tournament.

"We know we'll be supported in large numbers back in Wales and we'll be trying to do everyone proud."

Wales manager Ryan Giggs will face trial on January 24 after being charged with assaulting two women.

Giggs appeared at a hearing at Manchester Crown Court on Friday, just over a month after the former Manchester United winger was charged with causing actual bodily harm to a woman in her 30s and common assault of a woman in her 20s.

The 47-year-old is alleged to have assaulted the two women in Worsley, Greater Manchester, on November 1 last year.

He was also charged with one count of coercive and controlling behaviour.

Giggs, who denies the allegations, will return to Manchester Crown Court early next year for the trial.

The Football Association of Wales (FAW) last month confirmed Giggs will not be in charge of the team for the upcoming Euro 2020 finals, with Robert Page at the helm instead.

Giggs won 13 Premier League titles and the Champions League twice during a hugely successful career with United before hanging up his boots in May 2014.

He was named Wales manager in January 2018, taking over the job following the departure of Chris Coleman.

Gareth Bale has been given a rave review by Ryan Mason – but Tottenham's interim boss cannot say if the Wales winger will return to north London next season.

After losing his place at Real Madrid, Bale rejoined Tottenham last September on a season-long loan, but he is due to return to the Spanish capital once the Premier League campaign ends.

Asked whether Bale could stay with Spurs for 2021-22, Mason said: "I am not sure, I have not had those conversations.

"The club will have those conversations at the end of the season. After this game at the weekend he goes back to his parent club. He is a Real Madrid player.

"These conversations, these situations, I am not sure of. I just know hopefully he's going to help us at the weekend."

A report in Spanish newspaper AS on Friday claimed Bale is focused on spending next season with Madrid, before retiring afterwards when his lucrative contract expires.

There has been no indication from Bale that he intends to follow that path, and his playing prospects at Madrid could depend on who coaches the team next term, after the 31-year-old fell out of favour with Zinedine Zidane.

Mason has had no doubts about Bale's recent commitment to Tottenham, and he frowned on any suggestions the Wales international might be holding something back for Euro 2020.

"I completely disagree with that personally. I can only speak of my experience in this last five weeks with Gareth. He's scored four goals for this football club in that time. He's been excellent," Mason said, speaking ahead of Tottenham's season finale at Leicester City on Sunday.

Bale has not completed a full 90-minute game in the Premier League since embarking on his second spell at the club, but in 19 appearances, of which just 10 have been starts, he has scored nine goals in the competition, with only Harry Kane and Son Heung-min ahead of him at Spurs.

He has significantly exceeded his expected goals (xG) total of 4.8, and Kane (22 goals from xG of 16.76) and Son (17 from xG of 8.86) have done likewise.

Looking at Bale, and his performance in the 2-0 win against Wolves, Mason said:  "Last weekend I think was the most minutes he's played in the Premier League all season, pushing close to 90 minutes.

"I think if you were to look at Gareth in that moment he looked fit, he looked strong, he was brave, he added a different dimension for us and he has severe quality as well.

"In terms of him thinking about this summer, I don't believe so because he was out there the other night playing through some pain, playing through a problem he had, for me, for himself and for the football club.

"In terms of Gareth's commitment and Gareth's quality, I think his commitment has been fully there in this moment that I've been here and in terms of his quality, his quality is never going to leave him. I think you see that every time he's on the football pitch."

Johnny Sexton's omission from the British and Irish Lions squad was one of Warren Gatland's "toughest decisions", the coach has admitted.

Ireland legend Sexton, the 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year, was one of the surprise exclusions from Gatland's 37-man selection for the upcoming tour of South Africa.

Sexton misses out despite the fly-half playing a key role on the 2017 trip to New Zealand, with Gatland expressing some concerns over the 35-year-old's "durability" and instead calling up Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell and Finn Russell.

"There's no doubt that that was one of the toughest decisions that we had to make," said Gatland at a news conference on Thursday.

"I've got a huge amount of respect for Johnny and his quality, but it's such a pivotal position for us and it's about sending a message to the 10s that we have selected that we have the confidence and belief in them to do a job.

"When we looked at where we were going in South Africa probably the thing that kept coming back to us was Johnny's durability, being able to put a string of matches together consecutively, and big matches.

"He has been rested on a number of occasions and unfortunately that's possibly what swayed it for us in terms of us not having the confidence that he can get through what's going to be a tough, physical tour."

Billy Vunipola was also a notable absentee from the list, while other big calls saw Wales centre Jonathan Davies, England prop Kyle Sinckler and Ireland second row James Ryan left out.

However, Gatland did find room for Exeter Chiefs number eight Sam Simmonds, who has not played a Test for England since March 2018.

The Lions will face the Springboks in Tests on July 24, July 31 and August 7.

Alun Wyn Jones has been named captain of the British and Irish Lions for their tour of South Africa, leading a 37-man squad.

Warren Gatland announced his selection on Thursday ahead of the trip in July, which follows a warm-up against Japan next month.

Wales great Jones has been chosen for the leadership role having featured in the past nine Lions Tests going back to 2009, the longest run in the professional era.

Jones has already skippered the side once previously in the absence of the injured Sam Warburton in Australia eight years ago, clinching a first series win since 1997.

Elsewhere in Gatland's squad, Ireland's former World Rugby Player of the Year Johnny Sexton misses out despite playing a key role on the 2017 trip to New Zealand.

Billy Vunipola was also a notable absentee from the list, while other big calls saw Wales centre Jonathan Davies, England prop Kyle Sinckler and Ireland second row James Ryan excluded.

However, Gatland did find room for Exeter Chiefs number eight Sam Simmonds, who has not played a Test for England since March 2018.

"We believe we've picked a squad capable of winning a Test series in South Africa," Gatland - who opted for 11 Englishmen, 10 Welshmen and eight apiece from Ireland and Scotland - said following the squad announcement.

"Selecting a Lions squad is never easy and, in many ways, this has been the most challenging selection I have been involved in.

"Over the course of the last three weeks the coaches and I have rigorously debated each position.

"We saw some outstanding performances in the recent Six Nations, so competition for places has been tough with some incredibly tight calls to make. 

"However, we are very happy with the squad we have assembled and look forward to meeting up in Jersey in just over a month's time to start our preparation to take on the world champions.

"We've left out some very talented players which gives an indication to the strength of this squad and we know how important that stand-by list will be.

"Being selected for a Lions tour is the greatest honour for a British and Irish player and I congratulate everyone named today."

The Lions will face the Springboks in Tests on July 24, July 31 and August 7.


British and Irish Lions squad in full:

Josh Adams (Cardiff, Wales), Bundee Aki (Connacht, Ireland), Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales), Elliot Daly (Saracens, England), Gareth Davies (Scarlets, Wales), Owen Farrell (Saracens, England), Chris Harris (Gloucester, Scotland), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster, Ireland), Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, Scotland), Conor Murray (Munster, Ireland), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland), Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester, Wales), Finn Russell (Racing 92, Scotland), Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh, Scotland), Anthony Watson (Bath, England), Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales); Tadhg Beirne (Munster, Ireland), Jack Conan (Leinster, Ireland), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, England), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland), Taulupe Faletau (Bath, Wales), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster, Ireland), Jamie George (Saracens, England), Iain Henderson (Ulster, Ireland), Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs, England), Maro Itoje (Saracens, England), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Wales), Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England), Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales), Andrew Porter (Leinster, Ireland), Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, England), Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh, Scotland), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys, Wales), Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh, Scotland).

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