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Moore equaliser seals home advantage for Wales

Kieffer Moore secured a home World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final for Wales as Belgium were held to a 1-1 draw at Cardiff City Stadium on Tuesday.

Robert Page’s side were already assured of a play-off spot, but they headed into the final Group E game desperate to be among the six top seeds.

Although Kevin De Bruyne put an under-strength Belgium – already assured of a place in the tournament in Qatar next year as group winners – in front, Moore equalised in the first half.

Neither side could fashion a winner, but Wales sealed second place and face a home play-off tie in March when they will hope to have captain Gareth Bale – absent here – back to full fitness.

De Bruyne silenced the Wales fans when he opened the scoring 12 minutes in, the stand-in captain finding the bottom-right corner with a measured finish after a poor attempted clearance from Chris Mepham.

Wales took that setback on the chin, capitalising on slack defending to equalise when Arthur Theate missed his kick as he tried to deal with Dan James’ cross and Moore finished clinically with his left foot 13 minutes before half-time.

Thorgan Hazard struck the post when he met a pinpoint De Bruyne corner with a sublime volley from just outside the penalty area as Belgium finished the first half strongly.

An unmarked Connor Roberts spurned a chance to put Wales in front when he sliced a long way wide after a James cross fell nicely for him early in the second half.

Dante Vanzeir came on to make his debut as Roberto Martinez made a triple substitution before the hour-mark.

Neco Williams almost won it when he cut in from the left and brought a fine save from Koen Casteels, but a point was enough for Wales to achieve their objective.

A play-off spot was already in the bag for Wales, but they capped an impressive qualifying campaign by finishing runners-up ahead of the Czech Republic and ensuring they will avoid the likes of European champions Italy and Portugal in the semi-finals.

The Dragons have only played in one World Cup, way back in 1958, but will be hoping a raucous Cardiff crowd can help them into a play-off final and then book a ticket to Qatar. They will face one of Austria, North Macedonia, Poland, Ukraine, Turkey or Czech Republic at the semi-final stage.

Belgium are now unbeaten in their past 28 World Cup qualifiers, this point secured without a whole host of key men such as Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois.

The powerful Moore delivered when Wales needed him on his home ground and led the line superbly. Since his international debut in September 2019, the Cardiff City striker has scored more goals in all competitions than any other Wales player with eight.

Theate was at fault for Moore’s goal, while Dedryck Boyata also looked shaky at the back. The 21-year-old lost possession 12 times and Boyata nine, with Timothy Castagne much more solid alongside them.

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Gareth Bale not in favour of biennial FIFA World Cup The 2022 FIFA World

The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar could be Gareth Bale’s last opportunity to play in the tournament but the forward said making the competition a biennial event would diminish its appeal.

Wales captain Gareth Bale said he is not in favour of a FIFA proposal to hold the World Cup every two years.

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar could be the 32-year-old’s last opportunity to play in the tournament but the winger said making the competition a biennial event would diminish its appeal.

“I like the tradition of every four years. It has that prestige, like the Olympics where it comes around every four years. It feels that little bit more special because it’s not happening too often,” Bale said.

“It does make it that bit more prestigious … I don’t really like that every two years because it loses that bit of history.”

Manchester City’s chief executive Ferran Soriano said the football calendar was already overwhelmed.

“There is no space for anything,” he said. “No room at all. The players cannot play more games.”

Nasser al-Khelaifi, the European Club Association (ECA) president and Paris St Germain chief executive, and Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani urged FIFA to engage with clubs on the matter.

“I would like every four years but perhaps there could be a discussion around every three,” Radrizzani added.

A joint statement signed by Football Supporters Europe (FSE) and fans’ groups from across the six confederations called on FIFA to abandon their proposals.

“Such a move threatens to destroy the already fragile balance between local, domestic, continental, and international competitions and calendars,” the statement read.

“The game needs to change. But it needs to change for the better. We do not want or need more World Cups.”

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Wales bowed out of Euro 2020 as Denmark cruised to a 4-0 last-16 win in Amsterdam.

Kasper Dolberg’s double and late efforts from Joakim Maehle and Martin Braithwaite put the seal on an excellent Denmark display.

Wales’ misery was compounded by the 90th-minute dismissal of substitute Harry Wilson for felling Maehle.

Nice striker Dolberg was only playing because Yussuf Poulsen, scorer of two goals in the competition, had missed out with a hamstring injury.

But the former Ajax player, back in familiar surroundings at the Johan Cruyff Arena, made the most of his opportunity by punishing Wales in each half with ruthless finishes.

Wales had put in the air miles at a tournament which has taken them to Baku, Rome and Amsterdam.

It appeared as if the journey had finally caught up with them as Denmark dominated for long periods and fully deserved their victory.

The build-up to the game had been dominated by the Dutch government banning Wales fans because of coronavirus restrictions.

A small band of Wales supporters did find their way into the stadium, but they were heavily outnumbered by several thousand Denmark fans who had been allowed to make the trip.

Denmark boss Kasper Hjulmand had also expressed his hope that local Dutch support would rest with his side, particularly as their stricken midfielder Christian Eriksen spent five years of his career at Ajax.

Wales boss Robert Page recalled Ben Davies, Chris Mepham and Kieffer Moore from the side beaten 1-0 by Italy in their final group game.

The trio were carrying yellow cards and Page chose not to risk them in Rome as another booking would have ruled them out of the Amsterdam clash.

Wales reverted to a familiar 4-2-3-1 formation, while Denmark were forced to make two changes after beating Russia 4-1 in Copenhagen to qualify for the knockout stage.

Wales started well and skipper Gareth Bale was influential in the early stages of an open contest.

Bale was twice off target from 25 yards, his first effort whistling past Kasper Schmeichel’s post, as Wales enjoyed more possession than they had probably envisaged.

Schmeichel also held Daniel James’ deflected effort, but Denmark’s move to a back four with Andreas Christensen pushed forward to curb Aaron Ramsey’s impact moved momentum in their favour.

Denmark forced a series of corners and took a 27th-minute lead when Maehle and Mikkel Damsgaard combined superbly for Dolberg to finish with a superb curling shot.

Dolberg almost doubled Denmark’s lead with a clever flick from close range but Danny Ward blocked with his legs.

Wales’ problems grew as the half drew to a close as Denmark sensed the tie could be put to bed before half-time.

Connor Roberts was forced off through injury and replaced by Neco Williams, while Moore was harshly booked to pick up a one-match suspension.

Ward made another fine stop from Maehle right on half-time but Denmark doubled their lead three minutes after the break, much to Wales’ grievance.

Wales wanted a free-kick after Simon Kjaer appeared to barge into Moore, but play was allowed to continue by German referee Daniel Siebert.

Braithwaite beat Joe Rodon with a neat turn of pace and substitute Williams made a hash of the cross.

The ball fell to Dolberg who lashed home his second and the goal stood after a VAR check adjudged that Braithwaite had kept the ball in play at the start of his run.

Mathias Jensen and Braithwaite both hit the post as Denmark were inches away from ramming home their superiority further.

But Wales were simply out of ideas and Denmark punished them again in the closing stages.

Maehle smashed home a left-footed shot from close range moments before Wilson became the second Wales player to be sent off at Euro 2020.

Braithwaite’s stoppage-time effort then stood after a lengthy VAR check for offside, as Denmark eased into a quarter-final tie against either Holland or the Czech Republic.

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Wales have qualified for the last 16 of Euro 2020 despite losing 1-0 to Italy in Rome.

Matteo Pessina scored the 39th-minute winner as Italy topped Group A with a 100 per cent record and equaled their national record of 30 games unbeaten.

Wales were forced to play the last 35 minutes with 10 men after Ethan Ampadu was shown a straight red card for a late challenge on Federico Bernardeschi.

Switzerland had Welsh hearts racing by establishing a 2-0 interval lead against Turkey in Baku and trimming Wales’ goal difference advantage.

The Swiss eventually won in 3-1, but it was not enough to leapfrog Wales and their qualification hopes now reside on being one of the four best third-placed sides.

Wales instead will head to Amsterdam to play the runners-up of Group B, most likely Denmark, Finland or Russia.

The prize at stake was a last-16 tie at Wembley with Austria or Ukraine the probable opponents.

Italy had established themselves as one of the tournament favourites by overwhelming Turkey and Switzerland, two 3-0 wins making it 10 successive victories by the margin of 31-0.

Manager Roberto Mancini had promised changes with qualification for the knockout stage already secured and made eight in the event.

Leonardo Bonucci took over the captaincy from the injured Giorgio Chiellini and Marco Verratti made his first appearance of the tournament after injury.

Wales also altered a winning line-up with boss Robert Page concerned over potential suspensions moving forward.

Ben Davies, Chris Mepham and Kieffer Moore were carrying yellow cards and the trio were replaced by Ampadu, Chris Gunter – winning cap number 102 – and Neco Williams.

The absence of targetman Moore meant Wales played Aaron Ramsey, the Juventus midfielder back on Italian soil, as a ‘false nine’ with Gareth Bale and Daniel James either side of him.

There were only around 400 Wales supporters present in a Stadio Olimpico crowd of around 14,000 amid tight coronavirus restrictions.

But the travelling fans made themselves heard as the action got under way and Italy set up camp in the Wales half.

Emerson Palmieri forced a first save from Danny Ward and the Leicester goalkeeper was grateful that Rafael Toloi’s shot flew off Pessina and straight at him.

Verratti was prompting most home attacks with delightful precision, but Italy were let down by careless finishing as Andrea Belotti and Federico Chiesa dragged efforts wide.

Wales did break the stranglehold briefly when Gunter, who has never scored in his long international career, headed Ramsey’s corner just over the crossbar.

But Italy’s superiority was rewarded after Verratti had been bundled over by Joe Allen.

Verratti sent in a low free-kick which Pessina met superbly on the volley to direct the ball past the helpless Ward.

Bernadeschi almost doubled Italy’s lead soon after the restart as his 25-yard free-kick struck a post.

Wales’ task got a lot tougher 10 minutes into the second period when Ampadu brought his boot down on Bernadeschi’s foot and Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan had no hesitation producing his red card.

Ward saved superbly from Belotti and Bryan Cristante before Bale missed Wales’ best opening 15 minutes from time.

Joe Rodon directed a free-kick onto Bale’s favourite left foot, but the Real Madrid forward snatched at the opportunity and skied the ball over.

It was not to prove costly, though, as Wales held on and maintained their record of reaching the knockout stage of every major tournament they have competed in.

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Kieffer Moore headed a superb equaliser as Wales opened their Euro 2020 campaign with a 1-1 draw against Switzerland at the Olympic Stadium in Baku.

Breel Embolo put Switzerland in front after 49 minutes, his close-range effort full reward for their superiority.

But Moore claimed his sixth international goal 16 minutes from time – and Wales were relieved when Mario Gavranovic’s late effort was disallowed for offside following a VAR check.

A point was more than Wales deserved for large parts of a contest in which they were often second best and key men Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey were kept quiet.

But Moore’s header will give Wales – semi-finalists at the last European Championship in France five years ago – belief that they can progress from a competitive group.

The result will place greater emphasis on Wales’ next game against Turkey, who lost their opening Group A fixture 3-0 to Italy, in Baku on Wednesday.

Bale, Wales’ record goalscorer, had not scored for 11 games going into the match – a run stretching back to October 2019.

But he had netted in his two previous appearances against Switzerland, with Ramsey also on target when the two sides last met in a 2-0 Wales victory in 2011.

Ramsey had been declared fit to start after being troubled by injuries, but interim boss Robert Page decided not to play him as a false nine.

The Juventus midfielder had filled that role in the final warm-up friendly against Albania, but he lined up in a more familiar 4-2-3-1 formation, with Cardiff target man Moore leading the line.

Danny Ward got the nod over Wayne Hennessey in goal and the two Joes, Allen and Morrell, provided the midfield screen in front of the back four.

Switzerland, four places higher than Wales at 13 in the world rankings, were packed with experience, with six players in the starting line-up having 60 caps or more.

Vladimir Petkovic’s side also came into the tournament in good form, having won all five games played in 2021.

Both sets of players took the knee before kick-off and it was a cagey opening with temperatures touching 30 degrees.

Wales had the first chance after 15 minutes when Daniel James crossed from the left and Moore forced a superb one-handed save from Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer.

Moore was injured moments later in an aerial clash with Kevin Mbabu, but he was able to continue after treatment and returned wearing a patriotic red head bandage.

Switzerland took control as the half wore on, with Ward saving smartly from Fabian Schar’s near-post flick and Granit Xhaka driving wide from distance.

Wales’ plan was to launch quick counter-attacks and utilise the pace of Bale and James, but too often they were careless in transition and moves broke down before they started.

James did break free on the half-hour mark, but the winger’s burst ended by a cynical challenge from Schar, which earned the Newcastle defender a yellow card.

Switzerland’s pressure grew as the half drew to a close and Haris Seferovic failed to find the target on three occasions when well placed inside the area.

The clearest opening came on the stroke of half-time when Embolo held off Chris Mepham and Wales were relieved to reach the interval level.

But parity did not last long, with the Wales defence breached just moments after Ward had denied Embolo with a superb stop.

Xherdan Shaqiri swung over the resulting corner and Embolo held off the challenge of Connor Roberts to send his header past a helpless Ward from six yards out.

Wales responded well to the setback, with Ben Davies’ drive deflected just over before Moore met Morrell’s cross with a sweet header.

Gavranovic thought he had restored Switzerland’s lead six minutes from time, but Wales were saved by a VAR check.

Ward came to their rescue again to push another Embolo effort over the bar and the point keeps Wales very much in the hunt for qualification for the round of 16.

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Wales suffered an opening defeat in their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign as Kevin De Bruyne’s brilliance proved the difference in a 3-1 win for Belgium in Leuven.

Harry Wilson stunned Belgium with a superbly-crafted 10th-minute goal, but the star-studded hosts were soon ahead as De Bruyne fired home from distance and then played a major part as Thorgan Hazard’s header gave them the lead.

Romelu Lukaku sealed victory for Group E favourites Belgium with a 73rd-minute penalty after Chris Mepham had needlessly brought down Dries Mertens.

Without manager Ryan Giggs, who has denied an allegation of assault, Wales faced what is on paper the most difficult challenge in international football – an away game with Belgium.

The Red Devils top the FIFA world rankings and entered World Cup qualifying unbeaten in competitive home matches since losing to Germany in September 2010.

Belgium also had the incentive of avenging their Euro 2016 quarter-final loss to Wales, a defeat which cost Roberto Martinez’s predecessor Marc Wilmots his job.

Seven players remained from that game in Lille – Thibaut Courtois, Thomas Meunier, Toby Alderweireld, De Bruyne and Lukaku for Belgium and Wales pair Joe Allen and Gareth Bale – as the two countries met for the sixth time in the last decade.

Wales were unbeaten in the last four meetings and caretaker boss Robert Page welcomed Allen back into the international fold.

The Stoke midfielder ruptured an Achilles tendon 12 months ago and had not played for Wales since November 2019.

Liverpool teenager Neco Williams also came into the side following November’s Nations League win over Finland, while Belgium’s major team news centred around Lukaku.

The former Manchester United striker had arrived late in camp following a coronavirus outbreak at his club Inter Milan. But Lukaku started and his presence encapsulated the size of the visitors’ task with his 57 international goals from 89 games being one more than the entire Wales squad.

Both sides took the knee before kick-off and Wales suffered an early blow as Allen’s international return lasted only seven minutes, an apparent hamstring injury ending his night prematurely.

But Wales were quickly ahead as a slick one-touch passing move opened up the Belgium defence. Bale fed the final pass into the stride of Wilson, who claimed his fifth international goal with aplomb.

Youri Tielemans’ shot was deflected wide and Lukaku somehow steered De Bruyne’s brilliant cross over the bar from two yards out as Belgium settled to their task.

De Bruyne continually drifted into dangerous positions and Wales were punished after 22 minutes when the Manchester City midfielder was allowed space to unleash a 25-yard shot, which flew in off a post.

Belgium continued to press and took the lead six minutes later as De Bruyne set up Meunier to cross from the right.

Connor Roberts slipped on the difficult surface and Hazard sent a powerful header past Danny Ward in the Wales goal.

Hazard sent another shot over and Wales were relieved to hear the half-time whistle still in the contest.

There was more intent about Wales after the interval as Bale almost tricked his way through a packed home defence before the Wales captain’s audacious overhead kick fell wide.

Daniel James was also off-target twice as Belgium sat back with almost half an eye on Saturday’s trip to the Czech Republic.

But the result was put beyond doubt as Lukaku’s spot-kick confirmed Wales’ first defeat in 12 competitive matches and left the Dragons playing catch-up in World Cup qualification.

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Former Wales goalkeeper Dai Davies has died at the age of 72, former club Swansea have announced.

Davies’ career included spells with Everton, Wrexham and Tranmere as well as the Swans.

He earned 52 caps for Wales.

A tweet from Swansea read: “Rest in peace, Dai Davies. Everyone at Swansea City send their deepest condolences to the family and friends of former Swans goalkeeper, Dai Davies, who sadly passed away following his battle with cancer. Once a Jack, always a Jack.”

Davies, who was born in the Welsh mining village of Glanamman, began his career at Swansea before joining then league champions Everton in 1970. He made 82 appearances over seven seasons for the Toffees before moving to Wrexham in 1977.

He later returned to Swansea and had a spell as player-manager at Tranmere before retiring.

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Former Wales captain Ashley Williams, who led his country to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, has announced his retirement.

The 36-year-old defender made more than 300 appearances for Swansea, was an ever-present as the club reached the Premier League for the first time in 2011, and also played for Everton, Stoke and most recently Bristol City.

Williams appeared 86 times for Wales and scored two goals, including the equaliser in the memorable 3-1 win over Belgium in the European Championship quarter-final in France.

Williams said in a statement on Instagram: “After consideration of recent offers to continue playing, I would like to announce my retirement as a professional footballer.

“It has been an honour to play 741 games across all levels of the English football leagues and to represent some incredible teams.

It has been an unbelievable journey and one I will look back on with my family and be immensely proud of. Starting from non-league to playing at the highest level in the Premier League, as well as representing my country on 86 occasions, was beyond my wildest dreams.

Captaining Wales in a semi-final (of the) European Championships in 2016 was my greatest achievement and something I will never forget.

“Football has taught me so much both on and off the field and I will take this with me into the next chapter. I look forward to still being involved in the game in the future.”

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Wales won promotion to League A with a 3-1 win over 10-man Finland in Cardiff that allowed them to top Group B4. Wales came good with goals from Harry Wilson, Daniel James and Kieffer Moore.

Teemu Pukki netted for Finland, who had left-back Jere Uronen sent off after just 12 minutes.

Winning their group also improves Wales’ chances of securing a place in the 2022 World Cup qualifying play-offs, as the two best group winners in the Nations League are guaranteed play-off places if they don’t make it via the usual route.

While Wales go up, Scotland missed out on promotion from League B, Group 2 after losing 1-0 in Israel, their second consecutive loss since clinching qualification for Euro 2020.

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Gareth Bale played a key role as Wales beat the Republic of Ireland 1-0 in Cardiff to stay top of their Uefa Nations League group on Sunday night.

David Brooks headed home a Bale cut-back from close range after 66 minutes to maintain Wales’ one-point lead over Finland – 2-1 winners in Bulgaria – before the two teams meet in their final Group B4 fixture in Cardiff on Wednesday.

It was Wales’ fourth 1-0 win in the group and leaves Ireland – who had Jeff Hendrick sent off in stoppage time for denying Tyler Roberts a goalscoring opportunity – facing a relegation decider against Bulgaria in Dublin on Wednesday.

But Ireland might feel that Wales should have been reduced to 10 men after 37 minutes when Joe Morrell lashed out at Jayson Molumby.

Both men were booked in the incident but many referees may have chosen to show Morrell the red card instead of yellow for reacting to the Irishman’s shove on him with a petulant kick.

Bale was back from injury to lead a Wales side unbeaten in nine competitive games – a sequence stretching back to June 2019 – and he had a hand in the winner 24 minutes from time.

Dan James’ cross was met by Bale at the far post, outjumping his Tottenham team-mate Matt Doherty, and Brooks bravely headed home his second Wales goal under pressure from Duffy.

Brooks and Moore were denied by Randolph in the closing stages, but Wales held on to keep a seventh successive clean sheet in competitive football to boost their Nations League promotion hopes.