Gareth Bale ‘raring to go’ for Wales after Real Madrid uncertainty

Wales’ Gareth Bale during training on Thursday for the Euro 2020 qualifier against Azerbaijan. (Reuters)
Updated 06 September 2019

Gareth Bale ‘raring to go’ for Wales after Real Madrid uncertainty

  • The 30-year-old scores two goals in the 2-2 La Liga draw at Villarrea to end a scoring drought

LONDON : Gareth Bale says he feels more settled after a turbulent period at Real Madrid and is “raring to go” as Wales prepare to take on Azerbaijan in a Euro 2020 qualifier on Friday.

Bale looked set to leave Real in a big-money move to China in the transfer window, only for the Spanish giants to pull the plug at the last moment.

The 30-year-old ended a scoring drought stretching back to March with two goals in the 2-2 La Liga draw at Villarreal on Sunday but was sent off in stoppage time.

“The transfer window has closed,” Bale said on Thursday. “I don’t think mentally it affected me but I had not played for four to six weeks. “It was nice to be back on the scoresheet (for Real Madrid) and now I am fit and raring to go.”

Real teammate Thibaut Courtois suggested in an interview earlier this year that Bale was often isolated from the rest of the squad and was called the “golfer” due to his passion for the sport.

But Bale said he was happy with the moniker, adding: “I am a golfer. People make a lot of it, but I enjoy it and it keeps me calmer on the pitch.”

The Wales forward said not being picked by Harry Redknapp at Spurs “for a year” was a harder time in his career.

“I just kept my head down and worked hard in training,” he said. “If you want answers you maybe need to ask Real Madrid.”

Wales trail group leaders Hungary by six points, with a game in hand, and are three points adrift of Croatia and Slovakia in the race for a top-two spot.

Wales boss Ryan Giggs was pleased with Bale’s contribution on Sunday and said: “When he scores he tends to get on a roll.”

Giggs revealed that Ben Woodburn is likely to be missing against Azerbaijan due to illness but confirmed that the rest of his squad are fit and available, including Daniel James.

Manchester United’s new signing from Swansea has scored three goals in four appearances for the club so far this season.

Former United winger Giggs has not been surprised by James’s start to life at Old Trafford.

“He’s at the right club — a club which loves wingers,” Giggs said. “We’ve all seen what he’s capable of in the last eight or nine months and he’s going to get better and better.”

Mongolia, North Korea post wins in World Cup qualifying

Mongolia and North Korea both started the second round of Asian World Cup qualifying with wins on Thursday.

Mongolia, ranked 187th in the world and playing in the second round of qualifying for the first time, beat Myanmar 1-0 in Ulaanbaatar. Amaraa Dulguun scored the lone goal in the 17th minute of the Group F match. North Korea defeated Lebanon 2-0 in Group H with Jong Il Gwan scoring both goals in Pyongyang.

The winner of each of the eight groups and the four best second-place teams will advance to the next round.


Sudan’s first female football stars push for women’s rights

Updated 08 December 2019

Sudan’s first female football stars push for women’s rights

  • Sudan was once a football pioneer, joining FIFA in 1948 and co-founding the Confederation of African Football
  • Women were at the forefront of anti-Bashir protests, expressing anger against centuries of patriarchal traditions and laws

KHARTOUM: Within months of Sudan’s first women’s football league kicking off, the championship’s emerging stars are being hailed as icons for equal rights in a country transitioning to civilian rule.
Orjuan Essam, 19, and Rayan Rajab, 22, of Khartoum-based Tahadi women’s club, have scored several goals already in a tournament that would have seemed unlikely when autocrat Omar Al-Bashir was in power.
“I was thrilled to see that authoritarian rule was finally turning into civilian and that women’s rights could now be achieved,” said Essam, her long hair flowing freely as she trained at a stadium in the capital.
Sudan was once a football pioneer, joining FIFA in 1948 and co-founding the Confederation of African Football with Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa at a meeting in Khartoum in 1957.
But women’s football faced an uphill battle after the country adopted the Islamic sharia law in 1983, six years before then-brigadier Bashir seized power in an Islamist-backed coup.
Bashir’s 30 years of ironfisted rule ended in April after he was ousted by the army in a palace coup following months of protests, triggering hopes that more liberal, pro-women policies would emerge.
Women were at the forefront of anti-Bashir protests, expressing anger against centuries of patriarchal traditions and laws that severely restricted their role in Sudanese society.
Sudan is now ruled by a joint civilian-military sovereign council, which has been tasked with overseeing the transition to civilian rule as demanded by protesters.
Last month the new authorities scrapped a decades-old public order law, which primarily targeted women for “immoral acts.”
During the rule of Bashir, thousands of women were flogged or fined under the law.
Today, the launch of women’s club football is seen as a much-needed boost for women’s rights in Sudan.
Essam, who plays left midfielder for Tahadi, said the world would now know that Sudanese women are not just “meant for raising children and doing household chores.”
“Women’s rights are much more than that,” she said.
Rajab, wearing a track suit at the practice session, said the tournament was the best thing to have happened to Sudan, showcasing the country’s talented female footballers.
“We badly needed it,” said Rajab, whose aim is to score in every match.
“Hopefully, I will become a professional player overseas and return to the Sudanese team, if they choose me to represent Sudan in the next World Cup,” Rajab said.
For Essam, who reads the Qur'an every morning and wants to become a dentist, football remains a hobby.
Since the championship began on September 30, both players have won praise for their positive team spirit, with Sudanese newspapers splashing their photographs on the sports pages.
“I play as a striker... Orjuan is a left midfielder. We coordinate and make passes to each other,” Rajab said.
Their coach Ahmed Al-Fakki said the two always have a countermove to any plays their opponents make on the field.
“Their goals speak for them, they were very beautiful goals,” Fakki said, as Rajab dribbled the ball behind him.
Essam and Rajab say they owe their new-found glory to understanding parents.
Essam said her father, a football enthusiast himself, is her biggest supporter and personal coach, often correcting her mistakes during training.
“Women are now competing with men at all levels, they are even taking ministerial positions,” said her father, Essam Al-Sayed, who is a banker.
Rajab took a liking to football at a young age, mostly playing with her brother.
“My parents had no objection, they kept telling me to push on with sports,” she said.
With the success of the league and the attention the two girls have brought to the championship — which has 21 clubs participating — organizers now want to tap more talent.
“We have convinced the ministry of education to open schools for training girls in football, and we have contacted FIFA to help bring football to young children,” said Fakki, who is also involved in organizing the league.
Essam and Rajab, however, remain special to him.
“Orjuan and Rayan are capable of becoming professional footballers,” he said.
“I tell them to show the world that Sudan has talent and it is only professional players who can help develop the sport.”