Neco Williams scored a stoppage-time winner to secure Wales a 1-0 Nations League victory over Bulgaria and take charge of the group.

Ryan Giggs' men left it late on matchday one of Group B4 when netting an 80th-minute winner against Finland, and they had to wait even longer after what had been an underwhelming performance at home to Bulgaria.

The hosts did not pose any credible threat to the Bulgaria goal until the latter stages of the first half, but David Brooks spurned a decent opportunity and that failed to usher in much of an improvement after the interval.

Gareth Bale, only able to play 45 minutes last time out, managed the whole match though hardly terrorised the Bulgaria backline – instead it was left to substitute Williams to nod in with virtually the last action of the match to make it two wins from two for Wales in the Nations League.

Gareth Bale will continue to be selected by Ryan Giggs for Wales duty despite his minimal playing time at Real Madrid.

The 31-year-old has fallen down the pecking order at Madrid and was taken off at half-time in Wales' 1-0 win over Finland on Thursday as his lack of fitness told.

Giggs revealed after the match the substitution was planned for Bale, who had played a combined 100 minutes since February prior to the Nations League clash in Helsinki.

However, the Wales boss is not worried about forward's tribulations at club level and expects an improved display against Bulgaria on Sunday.

"With his situation, it doesn't change. I'm always happy with Gareth when he comes here," Giggs said at a pre-match news conference on Saturday.

"He's great around the camp and is one everyone looks up to. Like anyone else he needs to get more training time and more minutes.

"I was pleased with Gareth the other night that he was able to get 45 minutes under his belt.

"He'd only done two or three days' training. Finland are a physical team of giants and made it difficult for us so he'll be all the better for that 45 minutes."

Bale earned cap number 84 for Wales last week on the day that Liverpool right-back Neco Williams made his senior international bow.

The youngster came on as a second-half substitute and is now in contention to start against Bulgaria, with Wales looking to make it back-to-back wins in Group B4.

"It was a fantastic debut from Neco," Giggs said.

"He came on and gave us real energy and he's shown his quality in training. He's definitely given me a problem [with selection]. It's a good problem to have.

"We're really happy with Neco and he's in my thoughts with regards to starting."

Gareth Bale's half-time substitution in Wales' 1-0 Nations League win over Finland on Thursday was planned due to his lack of match fitness, Ryan Giggs has revealed.

Despite being frozen out in recent months at Real Madrid, Bale captained his country in their first League B Group 4 match in Helsinki on Thursday.

His rustiness was evident, though, as he fired well wide when he cut onto his left foot in the first period and Bale was replaced by Liverpool midfielder Harry Wilson at the interval.

Bale had played only a combined 100 minutes since February for Madrid and Giggs explained that he had Sunday's game against Bulgaria in mind when he made the switch.

"It was planned before," Giggs told Sky Sports. "He's had no football at all. It was a real juggling act picking the team.

"Gareth has had the least amount of football out of everyone so it was always the plan to give him 45 minutes, or, if he felt good, an hour.

"I thought it was best, with Sunday in mind, to bring him off after 45 minutes and then give Harry, who hasn't played much football, some minutes as well."

Without Bale on the pitch, it was Daniel James and Kieffer Moore who came to the fore for the winner with 10 minutes to go.

Manchester United winger James got away down the left-hand side and Moore – who had earlier had a goal ruled out for a foul – applied the finish to give Wales a winning start to their Nations League campaign.

"I thought it was a really gritty performance – not our usual flowing football that we are capable of – but credit to Finland who made it difficult for us," Giggs added of the win.

"I think it is the kind of game where we can learn from but also take a lot of pluses because we dug out the result in the end.

"With a clean sheet, you have always got chances because of the players we have got and those players produced again – DJ and Kieffer."

A below-par Gareth Bale lasted just 45 minutes of Wales' opening Nations League clash with Finland, but Kieffer Moore's late strike ensured Ryan Giggs' side made a winning start.

Real Madrid forward Bale – out of favour in the Spanish capital – had been restricted to a combined 100 minutes since February and his rust was evident as he miscued a first-half chance before being taken off at the break.

His miss was nowhere near as bad as Leo Vaisanen's in the second period, though, with the defender somehow failing to score from three yards out.

And Moore, who had earlier had a goal ruled out, made him pay by turning home from Daniel James' pass with 10 minutes to go to secure a 1-0 victory.

Wales thought they had opened the scoring inside four minutes when Moore nodded home from James' cross, but the goal was ruled out as the striker was adjudged to have fouled Daniel O'Shaughnessy before meeting the delivery.

Bale was unable to seize his chance when a deflected James effort was spilled into his path by goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky, who then watched the Madrid man's curling effort fly well wide. 

Harry Wilson came on for the Wales skipper at half-time and Finland should have been ahead shortly after.

Ilmari Niskanen's corner was headed back across goal by Joel Pohjanpalo for an unmarked Vaisanen, yet he somehow volleyed against the post from point-blank range.

It proved costly as James scampered away down the left again, squaring for Moore to apply a finish that Hradecky could not keep out.

 

What does it mean? Wales find a way without their talisman

Wales faded after Bale was taken off and that will have been a concern to Giggs given his rustiness could be a frequent issue if he cannot get a move from Madrid soon.

However, on this occasion, they still mustered up a winner as James and Moore – the two best players on the pitch – stepped up with Bale back on the bench.

James provides encouragement

James copped plenty of criticism towards the end of his first season with Manchester United, but there were fleeting glimpses here of the reason why he excited so much earlier on in the campaign.

Wales' three best moments in the first half all came from James runs and his assist for Moore's winner was a perfectly measured pass.

Vaisanen defies belief with miss

All eyes were on Bale on his return to action, though you could not take your eyes off Vaisanen following his unbelievable miss.

It seemed easier to score and the 23-year-old will be wondering how on earth he did not get his first senior international goal.

What's next?

On Sunday, Wales host Bulgaria, who drew 1-1 with the Republic of Ireland on Thursday. The Irish entertain Finland on the same day in the other group game in League B Group 4.

Gareth Bale would consider returning to the Premier League and blames Real Madrid for not letting him leave the club sooner.

The Wales international made just 20 appearances in all competitions last season and asked to be left out of the squad to face Manchester City in last month's Champions League last-16 second leg.

He came close to moving to the Chinese Super League last year, only for Madrid to pull the plug on a deal at the 11th hour, and has since been linked with Manchester United and former club Tottenham.

And with the current transfer window open for another month, Bale admits to being disappointed at not being granted a move away from the Spanish capital.

"I tried to leave last year but they blocked everything at the last second. It was a project I was excited for but it didn't materialise," he told Sky Sports.

"There have been other instances where we have tried to go but the club won't allow it or they've done something. It's down to the club.

"I want to play football, I am still motivated to play football, so I guess it's on the club. They are in control of everything.

"I have a contract, all I can do is carry on what I am doing and hopefully something comes up.

"I am only 31 still but I feel I am in great shape still and feel like I have a lot to give. We will see what happens. 

"It's in the club's hands but they make things very difficult to be honest."

Asked about the prospect of a return to the Premier League, Bale said: "If those options arise, it is something I'd look at for sure.

"We'll see what happens. We have plenty of time in this transfer window and a couple of others as well. 

"Time will tell but mainly I think the reason is that the decision is in Real Madrid's hands."

Bale played just twice for Madrid upon their return to action in June but has been included in Wales' squad for this week's Nations League games with Finland and Bulgaria.

Despite a lack of playing time, the 31-year-old is raring to go for his national side and he took aim at Madrid by saying it is nice to be in an environment where he feels valued.

"I think everyone knows how much I love coming away with Wales," he said. "It's nice to be back at a place where you are a little bit more appreciated and supported by your fans no matter what.

"We're all focused. We haven't had much time to prepare for these games. I haven't been back in training yet - I have just come back off holiday.

"I have kept myself fit over the summer. We just need to prepare for next year's Euros. We have a lot of games leading into that and it starts on Thursday."

Gareth Bale will bring up the seventh anniversary of his then world-record switch from Tottenham to Real Madrid on Tuesday with his career in the Spanish capital at a low ebb.

Out of favour under head coach Zinedine Zidane, the Wales international lurked on the margins, barely visible as Los Blancos claimed a sweet LaLiga title triumph at Barcelona 's expense last season.

The 31-year-old is effectively a luxury sports car consigned to the garage, save for frequent trips out with the golf clubs on the back seat.

Bale has won four Champions Leagues at Madrid, scoring crucially in two of the finals – deeds befitting of a club great.

That is a distinction now set to pass him by, even if the numbers below show it was once his trajectory.

AMONG LALIGA'S ELITE

Since Bale's debut for Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid, where he netted a first-half equaliser in a 2-2 draw at Villarreal, he has scored 80 goals in Spain's top flight.

Over his period in the division, that places him eighth overall, behind Lionel Messi (275), Cristiano Ronaldo (199), Luis Suarez (147), Antoine Griezmann (129), Karim Benzema (125), Iago Aspas (103) and Aritz Aduriz (96).

Unquestionably, that amounts to being in elite company, while his 40 assists are also not too shabby, putting him joint 13th overall.

Once again, Messi is out in front to a ludicrous degree with 112 assists. His Barcelona team-mate – for now at least – Luis Suarez (69) is next and Atletico Madrid's Koke (67) is third.

Benzema and Ronaldo, his colleagues in the once-fabled BBC forward line are the only Madrid players to lay on more goals than Bale, with 66 and 57 assists respectively.

HITTING THE HEIGHTS

Zidane's arrival for his first stint in charge of Madrid can now be viewed as the beginning of the end for Bale, but when they won the first of three consecutive Champions Leagues in 2015-16, he was in prime form.

In that campaign, which ended with the forward inspiring his country on a surprise run to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, Bale scored 19 LaLiga goals and provided 10 assists.

That made 2015-16 his most prolific goalscoring season in the top flight, with 16 in 2017-18 and 15 in his debut season, when he made 12 assists, coming next.

He scored his goals at a shade over one every 91 minutes – the only time in his Madrid career he dipped under 112 minutes per goal.

FALLING WORK RATE AND INURY WOES

Fitness issues have dogged Bale throughout his time in LaLiga, with calf complaints a regrettable recurring theme.

Since his opening two seasons at the club, he has failed to play more than 2,000 minutes in a campaign, having racked up 2,069 and 2,581 in 2013-14 and 2014-15 respectively.

Perhaps as a result of concerns over how well his body might hold up, there is also evidence of a decline in Bale's propensity to do the dirty work,

In his lone season under Ancelotti, he made 85 recoveries in league games and has not topped 50 since 2015-16.

In that prolific 2015-16 season, Bale played 1,738 minutes compared to 1,792 in 2018-19 However, his recoveries from those two years dipped from 52 to 36. Interceptions dropped from 20 to 11 and instances of him winning possession in the final third halved from 10 to five.

On the latter metric, Bale has never topped the 14 times he won the ball deep into opposition territory in 2013-14 – doing so only once in an injury interrupted 2016-17.

CAST ASIDE BY ZIDANE

Injuries are, of course, not the main reason for Bale's dwindling involvement in 2019-20. His 1,091 minutes in LaLiga are comfortably his lowest since arriving at Madrid.

He last started back-to-back games on February 16. To underline what could have been accomplished between that date and now, Messi managed 11 goals and nine assists - both divisional bests - in the timeframe.

Madrid team-mates Benzema and Sergio Ramos scored eight and six times respectively to stand as heroes of a memorable title triumph before masked spectator Bale.

As what remains of his prime is whittled away inside a gilded Santiago Bernabeu cage, it all seems so wasteful and unnecessary for all parties. Particularly for a player who touched greatness for significant parts of the previous decade.

Gareth Bale has been included in Wales' latest squad despite having asked not to be involved in Real Madrid's game at Manchester City earlier this month.

The forward remained in Spain when Zinedine Zidane's side visited the Etihad Stadium for the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on August 7.

Zidane, whose team lost the game and were knocked out by City, claimed Bale had requested to be omitted and the 31-year-old has played just 110 minutes since February. 

The likelihood of him taking to the field for Madrid with any regularity next season appears remote – even though Bale is under contract until 2022 – while the 31-year-old's wages and hefty transfer price remain stumbling blocks for a move elsewhere.

However, he remains integral to his country's cause and will be expected to start for Wales when they play Nations League fixtures against Finland and Bulgaria next month.

"I've always said ideally you want the players playing," Wales boss Ryan Giggs told FAWTV.

"You want them playing regularly so when they come into camp, they're in that match rhythm. You don't always get that and it's something I've become used to and you have to manage it right.

"Gareth played every game in the [Euro 2020] qualifiers but wasn't playing regularly for his club. I'm used to dealing with that situation."

Liverpool youngster Neco Williams has been called up to Giggs' squad for the first time, while there is also a place for Euro 2016 striker Hal Robson-Kanu for the first time in three years.

The West Brom forward had previously announced his international retirement but reversed that decision earlier this year.

 

Wales squad: Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace), Danny Ward (Leicester City), Adam Davies (Stoke City); Ashley Williams (unattached), Ben Davies (Tottenham), James Lawrence (Anderlecht), Ben Cabango (Swansea City), Tom Lockyer (Charlton Athletic), Neco Williams (Liverpool), Chris Gunter (unattached); Connor Roberts (Swansea City), Ethan Ampadu (Chelsea), Will Vaulks (Cardiff City), Matthew Smith (Manchester City), Joe Morrell (Bristol City), Dylan Levitt (Manchester United), Daniel James (Manchester United), Jonny Williams (Charlton Athletic), Rabbi Matondo (Schalke), Aaron Ramsey (Juventus); Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), David Brooks (Bournemouth), Harry Wilson (Liverpool), Kieffer Moore (Cardiff City), Hal Robson-Kanu (West Brom), Tyler Roberts (Leeds United). 

Six Nations has confirmed the tournament will be completed in October and guidance on potential spectator attendance will follow "in due course".

The World Rugby Council last week approved for Ireland to face Italy on October 24, with the final round of matches taking place a week later.

Ireland will stage bottom side Italy at the Aviva Stadium in a showdown that should have taken place on March 7, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Wales will take on Scotland on October 31 at a venue that has not yet been confirmed, with England travelling to face Italy at Stadio Olimpico and France doing battle with Ireland at Stade de France on the same day. 

England were above France on points difference when the vast majority of sport worldwide was halted in March and it remains to be seen whether fans will be allowed in to see the conclusion of the competition.

A Six Nations statement released on Wednesday said: "In rescheduling these matches, the health and safety of players, associated staff and supporters has been at the forefront of our thinking.

"We remain in close contact with all relevant authorities across the respective jurisdictions to ensure these matches take place in a safe environment and we will announce further details of health and safety protocols and guidance on spectator attendance in due course."

Six Nations chief executive Ben Morel said: "Public health remains the number one priority and while we must continue to be vigilant and cognisant of the dynamic and fast changing external environment, we are nonetheless extremely pleased to be moving in the right direction."

World Rugby has proposed the introduction of a temporary international window before the end of 2020, a move that would allow this year's Six Nations to be completed.

The governing body's executive committee is keen for international fixtures to be staged again to aid the sport as it tries to deal with the off-field impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Having held discussions with all international and club competitions, as well as players and national unions, World Rugby wants a window that will start in late October and run into December.

The revised calendar would allow for the 2020 Six Nations tournament - suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak in March - to stage the final four fixtures still outstanding, followed by Test matches in Europe organised by the individual unions.

As for the Rugby Championship, the 2020 edition would take place in one country over a six-week period spanning November 7 to December 12.

"Recognising the importance of a balanced and shared compromise among all stakeholders, a temporary international window between October 24 and December 5 has been recommended," said a statement from World Rugby.

"In the north, this window will accommodate the postponed men's and women's Six Nations matches at the end of October, a rest weekend on November 7 and a programme of international matches involving the Six Nations and invited teams hosted in Europe from November 14 through to December 5."

With the Rugby Championship, "special" measures would be put in place to cope with travel restrictions, while the changes to the schedule allows leading players to be available for their clubs.

"With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to impact international travel and borders across southern hemisphere unions, on an exceptional basis the Rugby Championship 2020 will be hosted in full in a single country over a reduced six-week period between November 7 and December 12," the statement continued.

"Special measures will be implemented to deal with any government-required quarantine period prior to the start of the competition.

"The rescheduling of the domestic, European and international calendars will accommodate the ability for the professional clubs to have access to their star southern hemisphere international players for the completion of the postponed and rescheduled 2019-20 seasons at a time in which they would have ordinarily been on international duty in August and September."

The recommendations will need to receive approval at next week's meeting of the World Rugby Council.

England have announced a friendly against Wales at Wembley on October 8.

Gareth Southgate's side will take on their cross-border rivals behind closed doors in their first home game of 2020.

The last meeting between the two countries was in a group match at Euro 2016, when England secured a 2-1 victory courtesy of Daniel Sturridge's last-gasp goal.

After taking on Ryan Giggs' side, World Cup semi-finalists England face a Nations League double-header with home matches against Belgium and Denmark on October 11 and 14 respectively.

England will use the Wales fixture to stage a tribute to former internationals who have died in the past 12 months, including 1966 World Cup winners Jack Charlton, Martin Peters, Norman Hunter and Peter Bonetti.

 

Ryan Giggs has been so impressed by "fantastic" Liverpool this season that he is trying to get his Wales team to play like Jurgen Klopp's side. 

The Reds' relentless pace in the Premier League has been too much for their challengers, with Liverpool having built up a 25-point lead over Manchester City prior to the season being paused in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

It was confirmed on Thursday that the top flight will resume on June 17 and Liverpool need just two more wins from their final nine fixtures to guarantee a first domestic title in three decades. 

Much of the past 30 years since has been dominated by Manchester United, with whom Giggs won 13 Premier League titles, but the Wales boss has nothing but admiration for Klopp's current crop. 

"With the obvious pause in the season because of COVID-19, I think there's a lot of questions still to be answered," Giggs told Sky Sports. 

"But I think what we have seen this year is Liverpool are a fantastic team, managed by a great coach in Jurgen Klopp and, it pains me to say it as a United fan, but they have been fantastic this season.

"Obviously they'll go on and, whatever way it is, they'll win the league and deserve it.

"They've had two brilliant seasons actually, last year pushing Man City all the way. They're a great team to watch.

"There were certain things that I've taken out of the way that Liverpool play, and taking it on to the way that I want to do with Wales.

"Hopefully United will bridge that gap and catch them up. But you have to give credit where credit is due and Liverpool have been fantastic this season."

United, now managed by Giggs' former team-mate Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, are fifth in the Premier League, 37 points behind Liverpool.

World Rugby has ruled out the possibility of holding an international invitational tournament in the United Kingdom and Ireland in 2021 to provide relief following the coronavirus pandemic.

Former Rugby Football Union chief executive Francis Baron had proposed the one-off 16-team competition to raise money "for keeping the game of rugby alive around the world", with sport suspended in recent months due to the global crisis.

The event, held in the UK in order to avoid disrupting France's 2023 Rugby World Cup preparations, would see 31 matches across June and July and prompt the postponement of the British and Irish Lions' tour of South Africa.

The suggested tournament - dubbed the 'Coronavirus Cup of World Rugby' as Baron revealed his plan to the Telegraph - would reportedly aim to bring in up to £250million to support the sport as it recovers from the pandemic.

However, the  idea has been dismissed by governing body World Rugby.

A statement read: "World Rugby notes a proposal by former RFU CEO Francis Baron suggesting the organisation of a major international rugby event in the UK in 2021 to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on global rugby.

"World Rugby does not intend to pursue such a proposal.

"All stakeholders continue to progress productive discussions regarding the immediate global COVID-19 financial relief strategy and international rugby calendar optimisation, both of which will further the success of Rugby World Cup 2023 in France."

World Rugby has already postponed all July Tests and set aside a $100million relief fund in a bid to assist those struggling the most.

Saracens have signed Wales scrum-half Aled Davies on a three-year deal.

Davies' international career appears to be over after he opted to leave the Ospreys to join the European and Premiership champions.

The 27-year-old playmaker will not be able play for his country due to the 60-cap eligibility rule and is instead heading for the Championship after Sarries were consigned to relegation due to salary-cap breaches.

Davies said: "It's a great opportunity for me at a massive club. It's a massive honour to come here and I can't wait to get started.

"It seems like there is a good team and family ethos around the club which is very attractive for me and my family.

"I'm looking forward to putting my stamp on things and making an impact, hopefully."

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said: "Aled is an experienced, talented player and we are delighted to welcome both him and his family to Saracens.

"He is driven to take his game to new levels and we are excited he has chosen to do that at Saracens."

Davies has won 20 caps for Wales, with his last appearance coming against Uruguay in the Rugby World Cup last October.

Wales international Jonah Holmes has joined the Dragons on a long-term deal after he was released from the last year of his Leicester Tigers contract.

Holmes, who can operate on the wing or at full-back, scored 24 tries in three seasons with Premiership side Leicester.

The 27-year-old has been capped three times by Wales, and Dragons director of rugby Dean Ryan hopes the region can help him become an established Test player.

Ryan said: "Jonah is a top-class international who is excited to make the move to Wales and join Dragons.

"Jonah has big ambitions, in both the domestic and international arena, and we are pleased that he believes that Dragons is the right fit for him to be able to achieve those goals."

Holmes is relishing a new challenge in the Pro 14.

He said: "I'm pleased to finalise the move and can't wait to get started in a new competition and link up with my team-mates.

"I've spoken at length to Dean, know the ambition for the future and have seen the squad that is being built. I'm excited by the challenge ahead.

"My focus is now totally on Dragons, getting integrated into the squad as soon as possible and trying to get my name on that first team sheet."

Former Manchester United star Ryan Giggs predicts a bright future for academy product Dylan Levitt.

Levitt, 19, was called up to the senior Wales squad by Giggs for a training camp last May, and again for their final Euro 2020 qualifiers last November.

He did not make an appearance for his country, with Wales having only secured their place at the finals with a 2-0 victory over Hungary.

Giggs regrets not having been able to give Levitt a chance on the pitch and says the youngster stands out in training as an obvious talent.

"When Dylan was in the squad, we had must-win games, so I couldn't really throw him in and put him in that pressure cooker," the Wales boss told MUTV.

"But, in training, he's one of the best. He's my kind of player – a good character, quiet but tough, and he's one that I'll be taking a big look at over the next year or so.

"I want him to develop and if he does and, if he plays more games, then he'll definitely be in the reckoning. He's a really intelligent player with a good range of passing and he stands out in training in every session.

"As I said, it's just a shame that I couldn't get him on the pitch."

Levitt, who has been with the United academy since he was eight, has impressed for the club's Under-23s side and was part of the young senior side Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took to Nur-Sultan to face Astana in the Europa League.

He started alongside James Garner in midfield in the Red Devils' 2-1 defeat last November.

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