Marko Arnautovic's agent says they have received an offer from "a well-known club" amid reports linking Manchester United with a move for the Bologna forward.

The Austria international joined the Serie A outfit last term, having spent two years with Shanghai Port in the Chinese Super League, and remains under contract until 2024 with them.

But news broke over the weekend that United, who suffered an opening Premier League defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion, were exploring a remarkable move for the 33-year-old.

Bologna have reportedly rejected an opening offer from the Old Trafford club, but now Danijel Arnautovic - both agent and brother to the star - has confirmed the existence of a bid and says they are working for a result.

"It's true that there is an offer from a well-known club," he told Kurier. "I'm in contact with Bologna to see if that can be realised."

Arnautovic previously spent a six-year spell in the English top-flight, with four years at Stoke City and two at West Ham, where he was voted Hammer of the Year in 2018.

Since arriving at Bologna last year, the attacker has arguably been in the best form of his career, netting 14 goals in 33 Serie A games last term.

News of a potential move for the star however has been met with a broadly negative reaction by many fans and figures associated with United, including former captain Gary Neville, who labelled them as "desperate".

Gary Neville launched a scathing attack on Manchester United's transfer strategy after their 2-1 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion, labelling the Red Devils "desperate" amid reports linking them with Marko Arnautovic.

United began the Erik ten Hag era in dismal fashion on Sunday as Pascal Gross' double condemned them to an opening-day defeat to the Seagulls.

The result made Ten Hag the first United boss to lose his first Premier League game at the helm since Louis van Gaal did so against Swansea City in August 2014.

With wantaway striker Cristiano Ronaldo starting on the bench and fellow forward Anthony Martial injured, United struggled to test a resolute Brighton rearguard and only pulled a goal back when Alexis Mac Allister put through his own net.

In the aftermath of United's defeat, widespread reports suggested they had a £7.6million (€9m) bid for Bologna's 33-year-old forward Arnautovic rejected.

United have also failed to entice top target Frenkie de Jong from Barcelona thus far, and Neville did not hold back when discussing the club's recruitment.

"The first thing you do when the phone rings from Manchester United is reject the bid, because the reality of it is after losing that game against Brighton on Sunday, they're actually negotiating from an even worse position than they were on Saturday, and that's an even bigger problem for them," the former United defender said on Sky Sports.

"I've got a comment on everything in the world, apart from Manchester United signing Marko Arnautovic. I've got nothing to say.

"We've seen Radamel Falcao, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edison Cavani, Odion Ighalo - desperate, it's a pattern. 

"It's happening time and time again. I don't even get angry or animated about it anymore. I'm not going to comment about it."

Micah Richards was also unimpressed by the potential acquisition of Arnautovic, adding: "What has happened to Manchester United, seriously? I'm not going to stick the boot in. Arnautovic was a quality player, but he's 33 playing in Italy."

After playing in the Premier League for Stoke City and West Ham, Arnautovic spent two years in China with Shanghai Port before moving to Bologna – for whom he scored 14 Serie A goals last season – in 2021.

In his post-match media conference, Ten Hag declined to mention Arnautovic by name, only lamenting the unavailability of the strikers in his squad, with Ronaldo limited to a substitute appearance.

"I don't go into names because I think in this pre-season 250 players are involved or linked with Manchester United, so that's it," Ten Hag said. "We have two strikers, maybe a third one, with Marcus Rashford as well.

"We considered him as a striker, but he had a really good pre-season on the left side and today he had two really good chances coming in from the left side.

"So I think it was the right decision to do it like this, the typical number nine wasn't available today."

Hosts England progressed to the knockout stages of the Women's Euro 2022 with an historic 8-0 thrashing of Norway.

England had looked nervous in their slender 1-0 win over Austria, but they were a side brimming with confidence as they put the two-time European champions to the sword in remarkable fashion in the Group A clash at the Amex Stadium.

It marks the biggest win in men's or women's European Championship history as England became the first team in any Euros to net eight goals.

Georgia Stanway got England off the mark with a 12th-minute penalty before Lauren Hemp made it 2-0 three minutes later.

Ellen White added a first-half brace sandwiched by two goals for Beth Mead as England made it 6-0 before half-time.

It was seven when Alessia Russo headed home from Lucy Bronze's cross in the 66th minute, and Mead fittingly had the final say as she completed her hat-trick from close range.

England are the first team through to the knockouts and, given their head-to-head records against Austria and Norway, are certain to finish top of the group regardless of what happens in the final group game against Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland, making their first appearance at the tournament, are already eliminated following a 2-0 loss to Austria.

Katharina Schiechtl put Austria ahead at St Mary's when she turned home a free-kick in the 19th minute, and the finishing blow came when Katharina Naschenweng fired under Jacqueline Burns two minutes from time.

Austria manager Ralf Rangnick says it is "an absolute miracle" Christian Eriksen is alive, let alone playing football again without any worries.

Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest when playing for Denmark against Finland at Euro 2020 a year ago and was brought back to life on the pitch.

However, the 30-year-old was unable to play for Inter on medical grounds as Italy prevent players from competing after having a cardioverter-defibrillator fitted.

Brentford offered the midfielder a six-month contract in January and he subsequently delivered, scoring once and assisting four to help the Bees away from the relegation zone.

Thomas Frank remains hopeful of keeping Eriksen at the Brentford Community Stadium next season, despite interest from Manchester United and former club Tottenham.

Rangnick, speaking before Austria's Nations League clash with Denmark on Monday, cannot believe that Eriksen is back on the football pitch exactly a year on from the issues on June 12.

"It's an absolute miracle [that Christian Eriksen is still alive]. I can remember the pictures of the team forming a circle around him as he was being treated," Rangnick told reporters. 

"It really was a matter of life and death. If anyone had predicted at the time that months later, six months later, he would be able to play football again, he would not have believed it.

"I talked to Kasper [Schmeichel] about it before the game, and he also said he doesn't worry about [Eriksen] anymore, because Eriksen enjoys it, he has no problems at all anymore so sees no problems playing.

"And it's extraordinary that when something like this happens to you, that you go about your job and play again without any worries. This is also something extraordinary."

Didier Deschamps has backed Antoine Griezmann and N'Golo Kante to be at their best by the time the World Cup arrives, heading into Friday's Nations League clash with Austria.

After a disappointing spell at Barcelona, Griezmann's transfer back to Atletico Madrid did not translate into an immediate return to form, while experiencing fitness concerns for the first time.

In a career that has seen him mostly without injury, missing two games in 2019-20 with Barcelona, the 31-year-old missed 15 games with Atleti due to a combination of muscle injuries and Covid-19 enforced isolation.

With that in mind, though, Deschamps believes the talismanic attacker for Les Bleus will be back to his best.

"I know him well," Deschamps said. "He has often benefited more from playing for Les Bleus. It's not his best period.

"A part of it is physical, and a part of it mental. He suffered his first injury this season. I'm not saying he's worn out. I know his qualities and his mind too. He does not baulk.

"This is not his best period, but it does not mean that I question what he is capable of doing. I know very well what he can bring to the collective."

Along with Kylian Mbappe and Adrien Rabiot, also missing in Monday's draw to Croatia, Kante will miss Friday's game in Vienna due to lingering injury concerns.

The 31-year has sat extensive periods on the sidelines at club level over the past three seasons, with continual hamstring problems denying him from a consistent run of minutes at Chelsea.

After missing almost two months of football this past season, Deschamps concedes that Kante's fitness needs to be managed, but will hope to count on him.

"When he is at full capacity, any coach wants to see him in his team," the Les Bleus boss said. "In relation to the deadlines that are ours, let's make sure that he is in full possession of his means.

"Many players have accumulated seasons of 60 games. At some point, organisations suffer a little more. His coach at Chelsea [Thomas Tuchel] would like to have him a little more. You have to manage it. Him there, me here."

Former Manchester United manager Ralf Rangnick made a positive start to his tenure in charge of the Austrian national team, defeating Croatia 3-0 in their Nations League opener.

It was Croatia who enjoyed most of the possession early, controlling 60 per cent in the first half, but it would be the Austrians heading into the break as the happier side after Marko Arnautovic tucked his strike into the bottom corner 41 minutes in.

After being out-shot by the Croatians 10-4 in the first half – with Austria's only shot on target finding the back of the net – the second half was a much different story.

Of the seven shots on target in the second 45, all seven belonged to Austria, and they were rewarded with two more quick goals as Michael Gregoritsch made it 2-0 in the 54th minute, before Marcel Sabitzer struck from long-range to cap off the win in stunning style three minutes later.

With the win, Rangnick became the first manager to guide Austria to a win and a clean sheet in their debut since Hans Krankl in 2002.

Speaking after the game, Rangnick said he was pleased with how his side navigated some early pressure to come out on top.

"We had problems in the first 25 minutes, but getting the lead just before the break did us good," he said.

"In the second half we played really well and scored two wonderful goals – we could even have scored more. 

"I am very satisfied."

Striker Arnautovic added: "The players were full of energy. Croatia are an excellent team, but we played a great match. 

"We turned our chances to goals and deserved this win. We want to return to the top."

Austria continues their Nations League campaign against Denmark on Monday.

Ralf Rangnick says he and Manchester United agreed it was in the best interests of both parties that he did not take up a consultancy role with the club.

The Red Devils on Sunday announced that Rangnick would not be staying on at Old Trafford.

Rangnick was appointed as interim manager after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked by the Premier League club last November.

The German was due to take up an advisory position with United, but it appeared unlikely he would stay on after he was named as Austria head coach last month.

With Erik ten Hag having since been appointed as United manager, Rangnick's short time in England is over.

Rangnick said in a press conference: "After the last game against Crystal Palace one week ago, I had some talks with people in charge at Manchester United, with the board that I have been in close contact with before.

"And over the last few days, we came to the conclusion that, for Manchester United, but especially for me, it would be better when I focus on my task as head coach of the Austrian national team.

"Then we decided to mutually resolve this contract as their advisor, to not let it become valid."

United finished the 2021-22 season sixth in the top flight, a mammoth 35 points adrift of champions Manchester City.

Rangnick's points-per-game (1.5) and win percentage (42 per cent) are both the lowest of any United manager in the Premier League era, while the 58 points they finished the season with is also their lowest tally in the competition. 

The Red Devils have failed to win a trophy since 2017, while they last won the Premier League title in Alex Ferguson's last season in charge in the 2012-13 campaign.

Ralf Rangnick will not be taking up the consultancy role that Manchester United had planned for him, it was revealed on Sunday.

After a disappointing spell as interim manager, the prospect of Rangnick remaining part of United's plans had appeared to fade.

He was appointed Austria's new coach last month, and that only heightened the likelihood he would move on.

Now United have confirmed Rangnick, who was considered an outstanding strategist when he joined the club, would not be part of their plans in the future.

It means Erik ten Hag, the manager brought in from Ajax on a three-year deal, will not be working with the man he has succeeded.

United, announcing the clean break, said: "We would like to thank Ralf Rangnick for his efforts as interim manager over the past six months.

"By mutual agreement, Ralf will now focus solely on his new role as manager of the Austria national team and will not therefore be taking up a consultancy role at Old Trafford.

"We would like to wish Ralf the best of luck in this next chapter of his career."

Rangnick stepped in as interim boss when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked back in November, with the initial intention being he would move into an advisory role at the end of the season.

United's often dismal performances and squad harmony came under intense scrutiny under Rangnick.

They trailed in a jarring 35 points behind champions Manchester City in the 2021-22 campaign, finishing in a disappointing sixth place.

Rangnick suggested he could balance working for both United and Austria, but that plan has now been knocked on the head.

United have failed to win a trophy since 2017, while they last won the Premier League title in Alex Ferguson's last season in charge in the 2012-13 campaign.

Ralf Rangnick says his consultancy role at Manchester United will see him focus on recruitment and has highlighted the need for the Red Devils to target younger players in the upcoming transfer window.

Rangnick will step aside from his interim manager role at the end of this season, with Ajax boss Erik ten Hag taking over at the end of a difficult campaign in which United look certain to miss out on Champions League qualification.

It was confirmed on Friday that Rangnick is taking over as head coach of the Austrian national team, although he remains committed to his new role with the Red Devils.

Rangnick said his position will see him focus on recruiting young, talented players who can help Ten Hag's United develop into one of European football's leading sides.

The 63-year-old namechecked Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland, whom he helped bring to Salzburg, as an example of the profile of player the Red Devils must target, and stressed he is "positive" about the team's future under "one of the best coaches in Europe" in Ten Hag.

"For me the most important bit is recruitment now, this is, for me, the most vital point, that we bring in the best possible players," he said.

"It's not only about identifying those players, also meeting them, convincing them to join this club even though we will not be playing in the Champions League.

"This is what I see as the most important bit, also with regard to top talented players for the academy, identifying those players. This is for me, for the next one or two years, an important part. My personal opinion is the club should try to find future top star players and try to develop them. 

"Haaland is a young player, but on the other hand, he has developed in the last two years into one of the most expensive strikers in the world. He could be of one of those examples where the focus should be, to identify and find players who could be Manchester United players for the next couple of years.

"We just need to look at the other top clubs in England and in some other countries, what kind of players did they sign in the past? I think then you get the answer yourself.

"I'm positive. With Erik ten Hag, Manchester United will have one of the best coaches in Europe, and then it's about, together with him, recruitment. If those things come together, I'm very positive you can see a different kind of team with a different style of football."

Meanwhile, with a host of out-of-contract players likely to depart Old Trafford at the end of the campaign, including Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, and Edinson Cavani, Rangnick said the Red Devils will require "quite a few" new signings to compete next term, but insisted Old Trafford remains a desirable destination for players.

"It's obvious that the club and the team needs more players, some players are out of contract, some are not available anymore, and some might want to get more game time [elsewhere]," he added.

"The club needs quite a few new players. For me, it's important the club recruits those kind of players that can help Manchester United develop into one of the top teams again.

"As a club, with regard to the supporters, the stadium, the training ground, yes, it definitely is [still a club players would want to join]. 

"But we also have to be realistic, as soon as other clubs like Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City are involved, then you need some good reasons to explain to the players [why they should join]."

United play their final home game of the Premier League season against Brentford on Monday, their first home clash with the Bees in any competition since a 2-1 League Cup win in September 1975.

Ralf Rangnick has been confirmed as the head coach of Austria's national team.

Rangnick will continue in his role as the interim boss of Manchester United, a position he has held since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was dismissed in November, until the end of the season.

The 63-year-old will prepare Austria for Nations League fixtures against Croatia, Denmark and France at the start of May.

A statement from the Austrian Football Association (OFB) on Friday confirmed Rangnick's contract will initially last two years but, should they qualify for Euro 2024 in Germany, the deal will be extended through to the 2026 World Cup.

"It's an honor for me to take on the role of team boss," Rangnick said. "I'm particularly excited about the prospect of contesting the European Championships in Germany with a young team hungry for success."

Speculation Rangnick would take over as Austria boss increased on Thursday, leading to confusion as to whether he will continue in a consultancy role at Old Trafford next season.

The initial plan was for Rangnick to stay in the dugout until the end of the campaign, then move upstairs to a behind-the-scenes role.

Speaking after United's 1-1 draw with Chelsea on Thursday, Rangnick confirmed nothing has changed in that regard and he will be available to incoming boss Erik ten Hag.

"Let us speak tonight about Manchester United and our game, the rest of the season here – this is the issue," Rangnick told Sky Sports.

"I can also confirm I will also definitely continue at the end of the season with my consultancy role.

"I didn't say I would be a big part going forward, but we have definitely agreed now both on the content and the time of my consultancy role.

"So far we haven't spoken, Erik and I, but this will hopefully and probably happen in the future, but as I said, I'm more than happy and willing to help, to change things for the better.

"It would leave space for another job, but that's what we had agreed to start with back in November last year."

United have massively underperformed this term with the dismissal of Solskjaer and arrival of Rangnick failing to produce the upturn in fortunes expected.

Rumours of squad dissatisfaction have rumbled on in the background of a campaign that has seen United fall off the pace in the race for a top-four finish.

Indeed, victories in their final three matches will only see them equal their lowest-ever Premier League points return.

However, Rangnick has a high standing in the game and has a wealth of experience.

He helped Hoffenheim from the third tier to the Bundesliga in two seasons and led Schalke to DFB-Pokal glory in 2011.

Rangnick spent seven seasons at RB Leipzig from 2012 to 2019, mainly as sporting director but also two spells as coach in the 2015-16 and 2018-19 seasons as well.

Austria have been searching for a new coach since Franco Foda resigned from his position after a 2-1 defeat to Wales last month saw them fail to reach the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Foda had been in charge since 2017 and helped Austria qualify for Euro 2020.

"We are very pleased that we were able to [appoint] Ralf Rangnick, an outstanding expert in international football, as team boss," said OFB president President Gerhard Milletich.

"We are all convinced that he is the ideal man and that his vision will advance the national team and the OFB."

Ralf Rangnick has been confirmed as the head coach of Austria's national team.

Rangnick will continue in his role as the interim boss of Manchester United, a position he has held since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was dismissed in November, until the end of the season.

The 63-year-old will prepare Austria for Nations League fixtures against Croatia, Denmark and France at the start of May.

A statement from the Austrian Football Association (OFB) confirmed Rangnick's contract will initially last two years but, should they qualify for Euro 2024 in Germany, the deal will be extended through to the 2026 World Cup.

Ralf Rangnick has confirmed he will be staying on in a consultancy role at Manchester United into next season, though the position would allow him to take on a job elsewhere.

Rangnick joined United as interim manager in November following the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with the initial terms of the deal seeing him in charge until the end of the season before taking on a backroom role.

The exact criteria and expectations of that consultancy position were not confirmed at the time and, even until recent weeks there was a degree of uncertainty around whether the role would exist at all after the appointment of Erik ten Hag.

Rangnick's pre-match comments ahead of Thursday's 1-1 draw with Chelsea belied a certain confidence on the German's part that he would still be working with the club in some capacity next season.

Reports then began to circulate that Rangnick is set to become Austria's next head coach, but such a job would seemingly not prevent him from also assisting United.

"Let us speak tonight about Manchester United and our game, the rest of the season here – this is the issue," Rangnick told Sky Sports when asked about the Austria reports.

"I can also confirm I will also definitely continue at the end of the season with my consultancy role.

"I didn't say I would be a big part going forward, but we have definitely agreed now both on the content and the time of my consultancy role.

"So far we haven't spoken, Erik and I, but this will hopefully and probably happen in the future, but as I said, I'm more than happy and willing to help, to change things for the better.

"It would leave space for another job, but that's what we had agreed to start with back in November last year."

The qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup is all but over.

Some key matches still have to be played, with Wales yet to find out their fate as they wait to face the winner of Scotland's play-off with Ukraine, which has been postponed due to Russia's invasion of the country, while there are inter-confederation play-offs also to be decided.

In total, 28 nations have qualified already, and most of football's star names will be present.

That being said, while France's world champions will bid to defend their crown, Neymar will bring the Brazilian stardust, Lionel Messi will look to build on Argentina's Copa America triumph and Cristiano Ronaldo will feature at a record-equalling fifth tournament, some huge players - and indeed teams, in the case of Italy - will not be present in Qatar.

Stats Perform has looked at some of the star players who will be watching the tournament from home.

Mohamed Salah (Egypt)

Arguably the best player in the world this season, Salah will not be lighting up Qatar with any mazy runs or sensational strikes. Given the tournament is in the middle of next season, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp may secretly be pleased his talisman will not be risking injury or fatigue, but Salah – who blazed his penalty over in the decisive shoot-out against Senegal on Tuesday – will be a big miss.

 

James Rodriguez (Colombia)

A star of the 2014 World Cup, in which he won the golden boot, James Rodriguez scored Colombia's winner against Venezuela on Tuesday, yet Peru's victory over Paraguay meant the ex-Real Madrid playmaker and his team-mates will not appear in Qatar, where James currently plies his trade for Al-Rayyan.

Luis Diaz, who has made a flying start to life at Liverpool since joining from Porto in January, is another Colombian talent who will be watching on from the sidelines.

Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy)

The hero of Italy's Euro 2020 triumph with his saves in the penalty shoot-out victory over England last July, Donnarumma – one of Europe's best goalkeepers – will be watching on from afar along with the rest of Roberto Mancini's players. After his error in Paris Saint-Germain's capitulation against Madrid in the Champions League, March has been a sour month for the 23-year-old.

Georgio Chiellini (Italy)

While Donnarumma has time on his side to make it to the next World Cup, the same cannot be said for Giorgio Chiellini. The centre-back is 37 and will surely not be featuring at another major tournament for Italy now.

Defensive partner Leonardo Bonucci may also fall into that category, given he turns 35 in May, while 29-year-old playmaker Marco Verratti may also have seen his final chance of appearing at the World Cup for a second time dashed.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)

It was the battle of two of Europe's leading marksmen of the last decade on Tuesday, as Poland went head-to-head with Sweden, and it was Robert Lewandowski and Co. who came out on top, winning 2-0.

Bayern Munich star Lewandowski opened the scoring from the penalty spot, and though Ibrahimovic came on as a late substitute, he could not turn the tide in Sweden's favour. The Milan striker has suggested he wants to carry on playing for his country, but at 40, surely this was his last chance of appearing at a World Cup.

Erling Haaland (Norway)

Although Ibrahimovic may be approaching the tail-end of his career, Haaland is certainly not. Yet like the Swede, the Borussia Dortmund forward will not be playing in Qatar either.

Indeed, even if Norway had made it through their qualification group, it is uncertain as to whether or not the players would have chosen to boycott the tournament, having previously made their feelings on Qatar's human rights record clear. But they finished third in Group G anyway.

Arsenal playmaker Martin Odegaard is another bright Norweigian talent, though the Scandinavian nation may well fancy their chances heading towards Euro 2024 and the 2026 World Cup.

 

David Alaba (Austria)

Madrid defender Alaba could not inspire Austria to victory in their play-off clash with Wales, with Gareth Bale's double doing the damage. After a glittering career with Bayern, Alaba is on course to win LaLiga with Los Blancos, but any form of real, tangible success on the international stage looks set to avoid him.

Jan Oblak (Slovenia)

Oblak's form has dipped this season for Atletico Madrid but on his day he is still right up there among the world's best goalkeepers, though he could not help Slovenia finish higher than fourth in their qualification group, as their wait to qualify for a first World Cup since 2010 rolled on.

Gareth Bale took aim at the media again on Friday, responding to scathing recent coverage of him in Spain.

The Wales international was the hero for his country on Thursday after scoring two excellent goals to seal a 2-1 win against Austria and put them just one game away from qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar.

However, Bale has rarely featured for Real Madrid, his club side, this season, playing in just five of their 42 matches in all competitions, totalling 270 minutes on the field – the equivalent of three whole games.

Spanish outlet Marca has labelled the winger a "parasite", also accusing him of "sucking" money out of the club.

Bale had described the criticism as "disgusting" after the Austria win, and he took to Twitter on Friday to further express his exasperation, saying journalists needed to be held accountable for the impact of their reports on athletes.

"The Daily Mail shining a light on this piece of slanderous, derogatory and speculative journalism by Marca," he wrote.

"At a time where people are taking their own lives because of the callousness and relentlessness of the media, I want to know, who is holding these journalists and the news outlets that allow them to write articles like this, accountable?

"Fortunately I have developed thick skin during my time in the public spotlight, but that doesn't mean articles like these don't cause damage and upset personally and professionally to those at the receiving end of these malicious stories.

"I have witnessed the toll the media can take on people's mental and physical health."

Bale moved to the Santiago Bernabeu from Tottenham in 2013 and has won two LaLiga titles, a Copa del Rey, four Champions Leagues and three Club World Cups.

"The media expect superhuman performances from professional athletes, and will be the first to celebrate with them when they deliver," he continued. "Yet instead of commiserating with them when they show an ounce of human error, they are torn to shreds instead, encouraging anger and disappointment in their fans.

"The everyday pressures on athletes is immense, and it's as clear as day how negative media attention could easily send an already stressed athlete, or anybody in the public eye, over the edge.

"I hope that by the time our children are of an age where they are able to ingest news, that journalism ethics and standards will have been enforced more stringently.

"So I want to use my platform to encourage change in the way we publicly talk about, and criticise people, simply for the most part, not meeting the often unrealistic expectations that are projected onto them.

"We all know who the real Parasite is!"

Gareth Bale described the criticism he has been the subject of as a Real Madrid player as "disgusting" after leading Wales into a World Cup play-off final.

Bale has played in just five of Madrid's 42 matches in all competitions this season, totalling 270 minutes on the field – the equivalent of three whole games.

Once the most expensive player in world football, the winger was absent for Madrid's most recent match, a painful 4-0 defeat to bitter rivals Barcelona.

However, Bale was back and back to his best when Wales came calling on Thursday.

The 32-year-old captained his country to a 2-1 win against Austria in their play-off semi-final, scoring two sublime goals – the first a breathtaking free-kick.

Bale appeared to play through the pain barrier in a brilliant display, eventually making way while holding his groin.

The former Tottenham man appeared to enjoy the celebrations, but his tone shifted slightly when asked if he had a message for his critics in Spain.

"No," he told Sky Sports. "I don't need to send a message, honestly. It's a waste of my time.

"It's disgusting, they should all be ashamed of themselves. I'm not fussed. End of."

Bale has come into form at a great time for Wales, scoring five goals in his past four international appearances – more than in his previous 28 games for his country (four).

In European qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, only five players have been involved in more goals than Bale's eight (five goals, three assists).

Wales will play either Scotland or Ukraine for a place in Qatar, with that decider at home, where Bale and Co. are unbeaten in 17 games in all competitions.

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