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.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dismissed the notion of Russia hosting Euro 2028 as "beyond satire", instead suggesting the tournament be awarded to Ukraine.

Russia launched a bid for either Euro 2028 or Euro 2032 on Wednesday, despite the country's ongoing invasion of their Eastern European neighbour.

That puts the 2018 World Cup hosts against a joint United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland bid for the former, an Italy bid for the latter and a Turkey bid for either event.

"The idea of Russia holding any idea of football tournament or any kind of cultural event right now is beyond satire," Johnson said in Brussels, where a Nato summit addressing Vladimir Putin's invasion is taking place.

"I can’t believe that anybody would seriously consider their suggestion."

Johnson appeared to forget that his own country had bid for Euro 2028 when he subsequently suggested the best path would be to hand it to Ukraine, who jointly hosted Euro 2012 with Poland.

"I think the best thing possible would be for the entire Russian forces to retire forthwith from Ukraine and hand the tournament to them," Johnson added.

Last year's rearranged Pan-European edition saw Italy triumph over England in a penalty shoot-out final at Wembley Stadium.

Hosts will be confirmed for 2028 and 2032 in September 2023, ahead of the next edition in Germany in 2024.

Gareth Bale has declared himself fit to start for Wales in Thursday's World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final against Austria, despite his limited playing time for Real Madrid.

The 32-year-old was not part of Madrid's squad for Sunday's 4-0 defeat to fierce rivals Barcelona, which head coach Carlo Ancelotti put down to illness.

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.

Despite repeated setbacks, the former Tottenham star has played 233 minutes for Wales across four games this season, helping to keep his side's qualifying dreams alive.

And Bale insists he is capable of lasting the distance against Austria, with the winners going on to face either Scotland or the Czech Republic in June's rescheduled final.

"Obviously it's normal to have some [injury] niggles now and again," he said at Wednesday's pre-match news conference. 

"I've been good. I've been training for what, the last two and a half months. I got some minutes maybe three weeks ago or so. So now I'm in very good shape. 

"I'm obviously in a lot better shape than I was for the last camp, where I'd been out for about three months. I've been training now over the last couple of days. 

"I'm ready to play whatever's necessary. And yeah, we'll give it everything we can."

 

While Ancelotti implied Bale's most recent absence was down to illness, reports in Spain suggested the forward ruled himself out of contention because of a back strain.

Asked to clarify why he was not part of the squad to face Barcelona, Bale said: "I don't need to. I don't need to tell anyone what was up.

"I don't need to give anyone anything to use against me. Everything is fine now, I have no issue."

Bale earned cap number 100 for Wales in November's win over Belarus and has scored 36 goals and assisted 23 more over that period.

And after representing his country at Euro 2016 and Euro 2020, Bale is now fully focused on leading his side to a first World Cup finals since 1958.

"For sure, the Austria game will be one of biggest I've played in," he said. "Qualifying for a World Cup is something I want to achieve, as do the fans and the country. 

"We need to take it in our stride like we always do. Everyone will step up – it's what we do best.

"To get to the World Cup with Wales would be an incredible achievement. We'll fight for our country like we always do."

UEFA has confirmed it received declarations of interest from four potential bidders for hosting rights to Euro 2028 and Euro 2032.

The United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland launched a joint-bid for Euro 2028 earlier on Wednesday, while a Russian official remarkably confirmed its own interest in holding either of the two tournaments.

Russia's teams are currently banned from UEFA and FIFA competitions following the country's invasion of Ukraine, but the 2018 World Cup hosts pushed ahead regardless.

Turkey has joined Russia in announcing to UEFA its willingness to stage the European Championship in either 2028 or 2032.

While the two countries are up against the UK and Ireland in the first of the two finals, Italy is the other interested party four years later.

The hosts of the two tournaments will be announced in September 2023.

Dan Biggar could not hide his bitter disappointment following Wales’ shock 22-21 defeat by Italy in the Six Nations.

The skipper was earning his 100th cap, becoming only the seventh Welshman to achieve the feat, while Alun Wyn Jones became the first player to reach 150 Test appearances for a single nation, but their big days were marred in Cardiff.

Edoardo Padovani barged over late on to hand Italy a first victory in 37 attempts in the Six Nations.

Meanwhile, Wales suffered consecutive home defeats in the competition for the first time in 15 years, and Biggar pulled no punches when assessing his side's performance.

"It's probably the toughest interview I've had to do, simply not good enough," he said.

"We've said in the huddle now that's probably the last chance for a lot of players.

"We were chasing as high as we could get and from the get go, we weren't quite at it and you get punished.

"Too many boys not quite up to speed, we were second to loose balls and balls in the air.

"It's really disappointing that something that we pride ourselves on that requires no talent is work ethic."

By contrast, counterpart Michele Lamaro lauded his team-mates after their long-awaited win, their first Six Nations success since 2015.

"It's just unreal. I couldn't believe it," he smiled. "I want to stay with my family and team-mates and celebrate with them because we deserve it and we worked so hard to get here.

"It's the first step of our long process that we just started. I think just being in the moment until the end took us to the win."

Edoardo Padovani scored a last-gasp try as Wales' Six Nations campaign ended with a shock 22-21 defeat against Italy at the Principality Stadium.

Josh Adams had appeared to spare the blushes of the lacklustre when he crossed 11 minutes from time to put Wales ahead.

Kieran Crowley's Italy looked set for a 37th successive defeat in the competition at that stage, but there was to be one final twist in Cardiff.

Ange Capuozzo burst away from the tiring Welsh defence and offloaded to Padovani, who went in under the posts before Paolo Garbisi converted to complete a remarkable victory.

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