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Wales earn home World Cup play-off after Belgium draw

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Wales striker Kieffer Moore R celebrates after scoring against Belgium

Wales secured a home semi-final in the World Cup qualifying play-offs as Kieffer Moore’s equaliser earned an impressive 1-1 draw against Belgium on Tuesday.

Rob Page’s side were already guaranteed a World Cup play-off spot in March through their Nations League results.

But finishing second in Group E would ensure they avoided a daunting trip to the likes of Italy and Portugal in the play-off semi-finals.

When Kevin De Bruyne put Belgium ahead in the first half, that ambition was under threat.

But Cardiff striker Moore equalised at his Championship club’s stadium in the Welsh capital to guarantee the valuable play-off seeding after Turkey failed to secure the four-goal victory they needed against Montenegro.

“I couldn’t be prouder. I was very emotional at the end. That group of men out there, to put that performance in after a big game on Saturday, it was outstanding,” Page said.

“I’m not surprised at how positive our reaction was to their goal. We’ve done it before. We know how to dig deep.”

With a home one-legged semi-final secured, Wales will go into the draw later in November feeling more confident about their bid to qualify for the World Cup.

Wales will host one of Austria, North Macedonia, Poland, Ukraine, Turkey or the Czech Republic in the semis.

They are now just two wins away from reaching the World Cup for only the second time and the first since 1958.

“When the crowd is behind us like it was tonight, we’ll take on anyone. We’re not done yet, we’re dreaming of a World Cup. It’s definitely achievable,” Page said.

Belgium, top of FIFA’s world rankings, had clinched World Cup qualification with a 3-1 win against Estonia on Saturday.

Although the Red Devils had nothing to play for after earning top spot in Group E, they didn’t roll over and are now unbeaten in 28 major tournament qualifiers under boss Roberto Martinez.

After two months out with a hamstring injury, Wales captain Gareth Bale had returned to action to win his 100th cap in the 5-1 rout of Belarus on Saturday.

But the Real Madrid forward came off at half-time in that game and was omitted from the matchday squad to face Belgium.

It was Moore who replaced Bale in an inspired move by Page.

– Gritty Wales –

Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois and Youri Tielemans were all absent for injury-hit Belgium as Martinez made six changes.

Even so, Belgium were quickly into their stride and De Bruyne put them ahead in the 12th minute.

Axel Witsel’s blocked shot rebounded to the Manchester City midfielder and he caressed a fine strike into the bottom corner from 20 yards.

De Bruyne has been below his best at times this season, so the goal was a welcome boost as he prepares to return to club duty in a hectic period for the Premier League champions.

Belgium monopolised possession for long periods in the first half, but Wales snatched an equaliser in the 32nd minute.

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Read Also: WCQ: Dutch reach World Cup, Turkey, Ukraine into play-offs

Daniel James’ cross drew a panicked response from the Belgian defence, with Arthur Theate completely missing his attempted clearance as the ball ran for Moore to fire home from close-range.

Joe Morrell’s foul on Witsel drew a booking that rules him out of the semi-finals.

Thorgan Hazard was inches away from restoring Belgium’s lead with a superb volley that cannoned off ... from De Bruyne’s free-kick.

Bravely pressing high up the pitch, Page’s gritty team tenaciously held on and almost won it in the final moments when Neco Williams’ curler was tipped away by Koen Casteels.

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Neymar leaves St Etienne on crutches in protective boot after injury

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Neymar was spotted using crutches after Paris Saint-Germain’s Ligue 1 clash with St Etienne on Sunday.

The striker was carried off the pitch on a stretcher in the closing stages of PSG’s 3-1 win at the Geoffroy-Guichard Stadium following a nasty tackle from Yvann Macon.

Neymar was on the receiving end of a nasty tackle from Saint-Etienne's Yvann Macon

Macon’s poor tackle trapped Neymar’s left ankle and left him writing in agony.

Thankfully for the former Barcelona man, his injury didn’t require a trip to the hospital.

But he did have to make use of a protective boot as well as crutches as he made his way to the team bus.

French champions PSG are currently unsure of the severity of Neymar’s latest injury.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino said: “We will have to see this tomorrow but from the images.

“I hope that it’s not a big deal and that he will be back with the squad quickly.

“But the action is not good.”
The world’s most expensive player will undergo scans on his ankle on Monday to find out the severity of the damage.

Pochettino later said of the injury: “There is nothing more to say for the moment.

“It is the pain he felt in the leg with his ankle that turned.

“We will have the exams tomorrow and we will see.”

Read Also: EPL: Jorginho penalty earns point for Chelsea after howler gifts Man Utd opener

Neymar took to Instagram shortly after the match, vowing to ‘come back better and stronger’.

He said: “Let’s recover, unfortunately, these setbacks are part of an athlete’s life.

“Now that’s what you have, lift your head and let’s go. I’ll come back better and stronger.”

Paris Saint-Germain will be back in action on Wednesday night, welcoming Nice to the Parc des Princes.

 

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De Gea makes damning assessment; ‘strange’ Rangnick thoughts

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Callum Hudson Odoi has a shot saved by David de Gea 1 1024x538 1

Manchester United keeper David de Gea admits he felt his goal was under constant threat against Chelsea.

De Gea faced 24 shots but was beaten only by a Jorginho penalty as Manchester United battled to a 1-1 draw away at the Premier League leaders on Sunday.

The Spaniard saved from Hakim Ziyech, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Antonio Rudiger, ensuring Jadon Sancho’s opener was enough for the visitors to earn a point.

De Gea has been openly critical of Manchester United in recent weeks, slamming their performance against Liverpool and eviscerating the display against Watford, which proved to be Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s last as manager.

He was slightly more positive about the Chelsea match but pointed out that there is still plenty of work to be done.

“I think we already improved against Villarreal,” he said. “It was a big game for us, we won, we qualified and now we played against a very good team away from home.

“The effort from the team was very good. They had the best chances, to be honest. For me, a draw is not enough, we want to win all the time, but we are still in a tough moment. I’m proud of the effort of the team.

“On the pitch, in the goal, I was feeling danger for nearly the whole game, but we defended well. They missed big chances to find the target. The one [goal] we have, they gave us a chance and we scored. It’s not enough to draw, but at the moment with the way we are, it’s a big point.

“The games before, we were conceding three or four, now we conceded one from a penalty. We had a clean sheet against Villarreal, but this is just two games. We need to show in the games that are coming – we face Arsenal so it’s a big game again, we need to keep going – that we can stay focused and give 100 per cent.”

On the impending appointment of Ralf Rangnick as interim head coach until the end of the season, De Gea added: “It’s a bit strange, but we’re professional players.

Jorginho celebrates scoring

Read Also: EPL: Jorginho penalty earns point for Chelsea after howler gifts Man Utd opener

“We’re training properly, playing properly. We play under the pressure as well and that’s Manchester United.

“We’ll see what happens in the future, but at the moment, we are a team, we feel like we’re all together and fighting for the same things.

“At the moment, it is Carrick and we’re with him. We are still conceding many chances, but the team is together. This will make us stronger.”

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Djokovic ‘probably won’t’ play Australian Open, says player’s father

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Novak Djokovic is currently playing for Serbia at the Davis Cup Finals in Innsbruck

Novak Djokovic “probably won’t” play the Australian Open in January over mandatory Covid vaccination rules, the world number one’s father said on Sunday, likening the restrictions to “blackmail”.

The 34-year-old Djokovic, who would be bidding for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne, has refused to say whether or not he has been vaccinated against coronavirus.

But Australian Open tournament chief Craig Tiley has said that all players must be inoculated to take part.

“Of course he would want to go with all his heart,” Djokovic’s father Srdjan told Serbian channel Prda TV.

“Because he is a sportsman and there are a lot of our people, the (Serbian) diaspora, there who would be delighted to see Novak.

“But I really don’t know if that will happen. Probably not under these conditions, with this blackmail and when it’s done that way.”

Srdjan Djokovic also defended his son’s “exclusive and personal right” to be vaccinated or not, and claimed that even he did not know if Novak had received the jab.

Tiley last week revealed that Djokovic “has said that he views this as a private matter for himself”.

Read Also: Russians knock holders Spain out of Davis Cup

“We would love to see Novak here. He knows that he’ll have to be vaccinated to play here,” he added.

Djokovic, a nine-time Australian Open champion, is level on 20 Grand Slam singles triumphs with old rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

He contracted Covid-19 during the ill-fated Adria Tour event he organised in the Balkans in June 2020, but said he did not suffer from any symptoms.

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