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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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I have no regrets leaving Real Madrid – Bale

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Gareth Bale says he “grew up” during his time with Real Madrid and has “no regrets” having departed the Spanish club to return to Tottenham.

Bale joined Spurs on a season-long loan earlier this month seven years after having departed north London for a then world-record transfer fee.

Despite having played a key role in Real winning four Champions League titles, Bale fell out of favour with manager Zinedine Zidane and made just 20 appearances last season as he was frozen out by the Frenchman.

 

The 31-year-old also endured a strained relationship with the Spanish media, who were highly critical of him, particularly towards the end of his time in Spain.

“No I don’t have any regrets, no,” Bale told Sky Sports. “I just try and play football, that’s all I can do and everything else that’s said externally is out of my control.

“As I said, I have no regrets of what I’ve done, whatever anyone else has said, that’s up to them. I know my opinion of myself and my family know exactly what I am, so that’s all I’m worried about.

“Obviously going into a different culture, a different country, I’ve had to grow up as a person, never mind a footballer.

“You just learn how to deal with the situations that you’re in. Obviously I’ve been in immense pressure situations. I’ve had people on the pitch whistling in the stadium to me.

“So yeah I’ve just learned how to deal with those type of things, to not take it to seriously, take it too much to heart, and yeah just get on with it. It’s football – something that you love doing and you just need to give your best and sometimes that’s all you can do.”

Tottenham finished sixth in the Premier League last season, and with Bale’s arrival, the club will be aiming for a return to the top four and Champions League qualification.

After a surprise defeat at home to Everton in their season opener, Spurs overcame a lacklustre first-half performance to thrash Southampton 5-2 on Sunday, giving them some much-needed momentum to take into this weekend’s match against Newcastle.

 

“Of course when you come into any club you want to do well, you want to help the team as much as you can,” Bale said.

“We have a great team here now with a great squad. They’ve been doing great. Obviously in the time that I’ve gone away they’ve gone on and on and obviously reached the Champions League final, the club’s got a new stadium, the club itself is better, they’re doing better in the Premier League every year.

“So I just want to add to that. I want to try and bring a bit more to the team and try and progress even more and keep pushing in the right direction.”

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I’m not desperate for CAF presidency, says Pinnick

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President of Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick, says he is not desperate to contest for the presidency of the Confederation of African Football, adding that he is yet to take a decision on gunning for the continent’s top football job.

Speaking to our correspondent after the unveiling of the official logo and brand ambassadors of the National Principals’ Cup at the Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos on Monday, Pinnick said consultations were ongoing to determine if he would contest.

 

“I’m still consulting because the CAF presidency is not a cup of tea,” the NFF president said.

“You have to ask God for direction, ask your wife because she is also a boss and if she says no it is a no. You have to ask your children, who are your immediate family, then the extended family who are the football family, the (NFF) Technical Committee, the (NFF) congress, political stakeholders. “After you must have gotten endorsement, you have to go to the (sports) ministry, the Presidency, and from there I need to inform my zone because I’m in WAFU B, I will also have to talk to my friends.

“We are on all those things and if it works out it is fine but if it doesn’t I might find myself with the FIFA Council. We are not doing it out of desperation but there are a lot of things people would not understand.”

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PSG submit Neymar-Alvaro video to league

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Paris Saint-Germain have sent French football authorities a video that some lip-reading experts say confirms Marseille defender Alvaro Gonzalez used a racial slur against Neymar, leading to an on-pitch brawl, Brazilian media reported.

A week after PSG’s 1-0 loss to their arch rivals ended with Neymar slapping Gonzalez on the back of the head — triggering a melee that ended with five players sent off — Brazil’s Globo Esporte said the Brazilian superstar’s club had submitted video of the preceding minutes to the league “to attempt to prove that Neymar was the victim of racism.”

Brazilian news site UOL said Monday it had confirmed the information.

 

Three Brazilian lip-reading experts interviewed by Globo TV Sunday agreed that Gonzalez had called Neymar “mono” — “monkey” in Spanish — just before the brawl, after watching the footage from French broadcaster Telefoot.

However, other lip-reading experts — notably in Gonzalez’s native Spain — have analyzed the same tape and found no evidence the defender used a racial slur.

According to some Spanish media reports, Neymar in fact used a homophobic slur against Gonzalez.

The French league, which suspended Neymar for two matches over the incident, has announced a probe into his accusations, which Gonzalez denies.

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