Gareth Bale has praised Wales caretaker coach Robert Page for keeping the team focused despite off-the-field distractions and securing a “massive win” over the Czech Republic in a 2022 World Cup qualifier.
Manchester United forward Daniel James’s goal secured a 1-0 win over the Czechs on Tuesday.
The victory moved Wales up to third place in Group E, one point behind the Czech Republic in second and four adrift of leaders Belgium, having played one game fewer than both.
It was a much-needed tonic for Wales whose main coach Ryan Giggs remains away from the team due to his arrest on suspicion of assaulting a woman last year.
Giggs denies the allegations and has been bailed until May 1. As if that wasn’t enough of a distraction, players Hal Robson-Kanu, Rabbi Matondo and Tyler Roberts were axed from the squad on Monday for staying up too late and breaking a curfew at the team hotel.
Matondo and team-mate Ben Cabango were also racially abused online following Wales’ friendly win over Mexico on Saturday. “Pagey has kept us focused despite what is going on off the field,” Bale told Sky Sports.
“The win is just what we needed.” Only the group winners will qualify automatically for the finals in Qatar, with the team finishing second going into the play-offs.
Belgium, the world’s number-one ranked side, are the overwhelming favourites to top the group, while Wales have already all-but guaranteed themselves a play-off after winning their Nations League group last November.
A place at the finals would set the seal on Bale’s international career as he suggested on Monday this would be his last qualifying campaign.
Bale, currently on loan at Tottenham from Real Madrid, has the delayed Euros to look forward to later this year but he will be 33 by the time the World Cup finals get underway.
“We didn’t get off to the best start against Belgium so it was massively important to get the win tonight,” he said.
“It was a massive result. We showed a lot of heart and desire to match a very physical team.
“It was very chaotic, especially second half, but we were ready and kept going until the end and the most important thing is to get that winner.”—APP