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Wales target Euro 2020 spot as Ireland forced to settle for play-offs

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Ryan Giggs’s Wales side, who have already qualified for the play-offs should things not go their way, face Hungary in Cardiff knowing a victory will guarantee them a place at next year’s 24-team tournament and a chance to repeat their fairytale run to the semi-finals in France in 2016.

Despite the presence of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey in their ranks, Wales have not often convinced in this qualifying campaign but a 2-0 victory away in Azerbaijan on Saturday set up this winner-takes-all showdown.

“We have got that momentum. I think we’ll have to be better than we were the other night if we are going to win,” warned Giggs.

“But I believe in the players. I believe in the group that we’ve got and the qualities they possess.”

Wales are currently third in Group E, a point behind second-placed Hungary, while 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia have already secured top spot.

It is not quite a straight shoot-out between Tuesday’s opponents in Cardiff though — if the game ends in a draw, Slovakia can leapfrog them both by defeating Azerbaijan.

For whoever misses out on automatic qualification, there will however be a second chance to qualify via the play-offs.

That is the path Ireland will have to take if they are to reach the finals after a 1-1 draw with Denmark in Dublin on Monday saw them finish third in Group D behind Switzerland and the Danes.

“Overall I’m very pleased with the performance and very proud of the players, particularly after conceding, to push them right to the limit,” Ireland manager Mick McCarthy told Sky Sports after the game.

“Play like that in the play-offs and we can beat anybody.”

Nineteen of the 20 automatic qualifying berths for the Euros have now been allocated.

Second chance

The remaining four spots will go to the winners of the play-offs which will take place in March — the draw for those ties will be on Friday at 1100 GMT.

The draw for the final tournament will take place in Bucharest on Saturday, November 30.

The seemingly highly confusing play-off format is based on the final standings in the inaugural UEFA Nations League, which split European nations into four divisions and offered teams from each tier a second chance to qualify for the Euros.

Georgia, Belarus, North Macedonia and Kosovo will meet in the play-offs in the bottom tier League D, with the winner after two semi-finals and a one-off final advancing to a first ever major tournament.

Scotland — who finish their disappointing qualifying campaign against Kazakhstan on Tuesday — already know they will have a home play-off on March 26.

If they win that, Steve Clarke’s team will advance to a final against either Norway or Serbia for the chance to reach a first tournament since the 1998 World Cup.

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will only get an idea who they might face in the play-offs after Tuesday’s games.

As for the draw for the finals themselves, England already know they will be in the first pot of seeds alongside the likes of Italy, Belgium and Spain, who have just reappointed Luis Enrique as coach.

However, France and Germany could yet both end up in the second pot of seeds for a competition to be staged in 12 cities across 12 different nations between June 12 and July 12 next year, with the semi-finals and final at Wembley.

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Bullied Australian boy Quaden Bayles leads out rugby league team in front of thousands

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Quaden Bayles walks with the All Stars Rugby team

 Quaden Bayles, a 9-year-old Australian boy who won the support of well-wishers around the world after being bullied for his dwarfism, has led out a rugby league team in front of thousands of cheering fans.

Bayles walked out with the National Rugby League’s Indigenous All Stars team ahead of an exhibition match against the New Zealand Maoris on Saturday.

He had been invited by the entire team in a video posted online, in which captain Latrell Mitchell told him: “We’ve got your back. We’re here to support you, bud.”

Earlier in the week Bayles’ mother Yarraka, from the Australian state of Queensland, posted a heartbreaking Facebook Live video to raise awareness of the impact of bullying. In the video, she said her son had previously attempted suicide.

“This is what bullying does,” she said in the video. “Can you please educate your children, your families, your friends?”

The video was viewed millions times after it was posted on Tuesday, with Bayles receiving a massive outpouring of support from around the world — and hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised to send him to Disneyland.

The Maoris went on to defeat the Indigenous All Stars 30-16 in the game at Cbus Super Stadium in Australia’s Gold Coast, with Bayles getting a pitchside view.

Among the other famous faces to reach out to Bayles was Australian actor Hugh Jackman, who posted a video message to Twitter telling Bayles: “No matter what, you’ve got a friend in me.”

“Quaden, you are stronger than you know, mate,” Jackman said. “Everyone, let’s just please be kind to each other. Bullying is not OK, period.”

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Solskjaer wants Lingard back to his best after cut back on social media

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Manchester United manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes Jesse Lingard has toned down his social media activity in order to recapture his best form in the second half of the campaign.

Lingard failed to score or assist in the Premier League in 2019 calendar year and has lost his place in Gareth Southgate’s England squad ahead of this year’s European Championship.

“Jesse has had his ups and downs as I’ve spoken about before. We want him back scoring goals and making assists.

“There’s no one who runs as much, he’s great trigger for us in the pressing, he’s a lively, bubbly character,” Solskjaer told a news conference ahead of United’s League Cup semi-final first leg against Manchester City on Tuesday.

Lingard recently said in an interview with the Daily Mail that he feared for his United future after posting a bizarre video on social media with team mate Marcus Rashford in the close season.

Solskjaer had reprimanded the midfielder for his conduct and said it was important to speak to players about how they portray themselves online.

“I don’t think you see as much in the social media as you used to from Jesse.

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UEFA’s 50 for the Future: Arsenal’s Saka makes list

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Bukayo Saka makes UEFA's list

Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka has been recognized by UEFA has one of the 50 youngsters expected to becomes stars in two years’ time.

The official website of UEFA which published the list had Saka has the only player of Nigerian descent worthy of selection in the prestigious list. Saka is also eligible to play for the Nigeria national team.

The player was recognized thanks to his brilliant performances for Arsenal in this season’s Premier League and Europa League.

The other Premier League starlets that made the list include Mason Greenwood (Manchester United), Reece James (Chelsea), Gabriel Martinelli (Arsenal) and Troy Parrott (Tottenham).

On Saka, they wrote: “In September, at 18 years and 14 days old, winger Saka became Arsenal’s youngest European scorer since Aaron Ramsey in 2008.”

A Hale End Academy graduate, Saka made his first team debut against Vorskla Poltava in the Europa League on November 29, 2018, becoming the 15th youngest player to debut for Arsenal aged 17 years, 2 months and 24 days.

A winger by trade, the versatile Saka has been deployed at left-back in his last five matches for Arsenal in the Premier league, including Wednesday’s win against Manchester United.

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