Gareth Bale has become the unfortunate posterboy for Wales' miserable exit from the FIFA World Cup at the hands of England, with the megastar subbed off at half-time. The high-profile Real Madrid star was a number of Wales players to go missing in the crucial clash against their arch rivals.
The 33-year-old's frustration boiled over after the full-time whistle, pushing aside a cameraman who was looking to get a close-up shot of the international superstar.
Wales was full of energy heading into the tournament in Qatar, the first time in 64 years that the national team had qualified for world football's biggest stage. But it quickly turned into a bit of a nightmare for the side, who had their backs against the wall after a first-up draw against the USA.
A slim chance of qualifying for the round of 16 remained for Wales - but they were banking on Iran defeating USA, and needed to beat England and score at least four goals in the process.
Once the ball was kicked off though, it became apparent Wales simply didn't have the juice to compete with their nemesis in England. Bale was one of a number of Welsh stars who seemed to repel the ball in the first half, finishing with no shots on goal and only one completed pass - and even that was in his own back half.
He had just seven touches of the ball in total in the first half, going absolutely missing alongside Dan James and Conner Roberts, who also failed to touch the ball less than 10 times in the opening stanza. Welsh manager Robert Page said Bale had suffered a hamstring injury in the minutes prior to half-time.
Predictably, England had utterly dominated possession during that time - but miraculously, Wales had managed to prevent them from scoring, despite controlling the ball for barely a quarter of the time.
That changed very quickly in the second half, with Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden scoring back to back goals in the space of 70 seconds to give England a commanding lead.
Bale was clearly extremely disappointed after the eventual 3-0 loss, pushing away a cameraman after the final whistle as they attempted to get a close-up shot of the 33-year-old in what could well be his final international appearance.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) November 29, 2022
Sadly, the sporting gods don’t always smile upon those whom they lavish with rare gifts. A ham-strung Gareth Bale spends the second half watching England bring Wales’ flit across the world stage to an anti-climactic end, unable to fire a shot let alone a blaze of pyrotechnics.
— Peter Jackson (@JackoRugby) November 29, 2022
Gareth Bale on Wales’ World Cup exit.
“We didn't quite live up to our expectations in this tournament. We haven't played very well.”
Asked about his future: “I will keep going as long as I can and as long as I am wanted. We go again in March.”
— Phil Blanche (@philblanche) November 29, 2022
Gareth Bale had seven touches in first half and completed one pass. A night to forget.
— Phil Blanche (@philblanche) November 29, 2022
Gareth Bale shouldn’t have played as much as he has for Wales.
Aside from that penalty against USA, he’s done next to nothing.
You’ve got a Premier League player in Brennan Johnson, who’s barely featured, on the bench.
— Ryan Dilks (@RyanDilks1) November 29, 2022
"Everyone is disappointed. I think we're all proud of what we've achieved to get here. We have to look at how far we've come," Bale said after the match. "Of course, we would have loved to have gone past the group but football is difficult.
"Teams go through good runs and bad runs and we didn't quite live up to our expectations this tournament. But we'll take massive experience from it and going forward we need to look at how far we've come.
"To be at a World Cup, if you'd asked us that two years ago, we'd have all pinched ourselves. It's disappointing to go out but we'll all walk out of that changing room with our heads held high and proud of each other."
Marcus Rashford dedicates World Cup goals to late friend
Rashford finished with two goals for the match in an impressive performance, dedicating the game to a close friend of his who died two days before the match against Wales.
Netting from a free kick and a searching possession that was finished between Wales goalkeeper Danny Ward's legs, the Manchester United forward simply proved too much to handle in the second half for an under-seige Welsh back half.
“Unfortunately I lost one of my friends a couple of days ago. He’s had quite a long battle with cancer, so I’m pleased I managed to score for him," Rashford said after the game.
“He’s always been a big supporter of mine. He was just a great person and I’m pleased he came into my life, really.”
Meanwhile, Graham Arnold is breaking with tradition as he ponders last-gasp changes for the Socceroos' defining World Cup clash against Denmark. On the eve of every game in his four and a half year tenure, Arnold has announced his starting line-up to his players. But not this time.
"We need that extra bit of time to see how the boys pulled up," Arnold told reporters.
Arnold declined to divulge specifics as the Australians prepare for their third game in nine days in Qatar.
A victory will send the Socceroos into the knockout stage of a cup for just the second time in history, following the so-called golden generation in 2006.
And a draw with the Danes would also be enough should reigning champions France down Tunisia in a match kicking off at the same time (0200 AEDT Thursday).
"I have never coached for a draw, it's all about winning," Arnold said.
"We want to go for it, to get two wins. In '06 we got one win and one draw. And our mission now is to get two wins and have the most wins ever at the one World Cup."
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