World Cup qualification is ‘final piece of jigsaw,’ says jubilant Gareth Bale

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Gareth Bale said reaching the World Cup with Wales represents the “final piece of the jigsaw” after they edged out Ukraine to qualify for the competition finals for the first time since 1958.

The Wales manager, Robert Page, who reserved special praise for the “world-class” performance of his goalkeeper, Wayne Hennessey, said he is looking forward to a mouthwatering Group B match-up against England in Qatar and dedicated victory to the late Gary Speed. Page said the jubilant scenes in the dressing room after the game were incredible and praised the spirit of his squad.

“Gary Speed started this, 12 or 13 years ago,” Page said. “I want to dedicate that to Gary as well. He started the culture. There was a difference, there was a change in the environment. I’ve inherited that. Chris Coleman took it on to another level. We’re just confident going into games now. We don’t hope to qualify for the Euros or a World Cup now, we believe we can do it, so there has been a massive change in the mentality.”

Of Hennessey, Page said: “I thought he was magnificent, world class, absolutely. I pulled Wardy [Danny Ward] in and showed him that respect to tell him I was starting Wayne. It was purely down to the fact that he played in the semi-final, didn’t let us down and it would have been harsh to drop him. There was no way I was going to leave him out. He delivered like we know he can do. I thought he went to another level. I thought his performance was outstanding.”

Page joked that the younger players in his squad have been “spoilt rotten” compared with experienced members such as Bale and Aaron Ramsey after qualifying for successive major tournaments. “I said a few words, how proud I was for them,” Page said. “I said that the young players have been spoilt rotten by qualifying for a Euros and a World Cup consecutively. The senior guys have had to wait a long time for that. It shows the path we are on.”

Ramsey said it was incredible that “little old Wales” would play at a World Cup. Bale, whose first-half free-kick was diverted past the Ukraine goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan by the Ukraine captain, Andriy Yarmolenko, basked in victory. “It’s what we’ve been working all our careers for and to do this for the fans, the nation, ourselves and our families is an incredible achievement, and it will be something that we will be forever proud of,” he said. “It means everything. It is the last piece of the jigsaw that we all wanted and we’re going to celebrate well tonight.”

Oleksandr Zinchenko said he and his teammates must continue to fight on behalf of their country. Ukraine displayed a flag given to them by soldiers defending attacks from Russia in their dressing room. “Everyone needs to continue to fight, as footballers we need to represent our country as best we can,” the Manchester City midfielder said. “Everyone needs to live in peace and we need to stop the war altogether. Today it’s Ukraine, but who knows tomorrow, we need to stay together. I feel sorry for our fans, but I wish Wales all the best for the World Cup.”

Ukraine’s crestfallen head coach, Oleksandr Petrakov, picked his words carefully and was applauded before leaving the press conference room. Asked what would be his message to ensure Ukraine is not forgotten, he replied: “We have war raging all over the country, we have children and women dying on a daily basis and our infrastructure [is]being ruined by Russian barbarians. The Russians want to hurt us and the Ukrainians are resisting and defending their land. We just want your support. We just want you to understand what is happening back at home.”

Petrakov said he could not criticise any of his players and hopes Ukrainians remember the efforts of his team, which will be completely different for their Nations League match against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin on Wednesday. “I think we did everything we could but I really want the people in Ukraine to remember our team, our efforts,” he said. “I want to say sorry that we didn’t score but this is sport and this is how it happens. I do not know what to say.”

Source: The Guardian

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