Spain and Chelsea No1 Kepa Arrizabalaga reflects on tragic Luis Enrique news

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Kepa Arrizabalaga said the death of Luis Enrique’s daughter made for a difficult build up to Spain’s Euro 2020 qualifying win over Romania.

Spain began life without former coach Enrique by recording a 2-1 success in Bucharest to maintain their 100-per-cent record in Group F.

Tragedy struck in the lead up to the game when Enrique, who resigned in June due to family reasons, last week lost nine-year-old daughter Xana following her battle with bone cancer.

Chelsea goalkeeper Arrizabalaga, who ensured his side victory with two vital late saves, said his thoughts were with Enrique and called for Spanish fans to show support for the 49-year-old during Sunday’s qualifier against the Faroe Islands in Gijon.

“We send a very big hug to Luis Enrique in these difficult times,” said Arrizabalaga, according to the Spanish FA’s website.

“It has been a complicated week for everyone.

“You have to look forward. It is not easy, but life sometimes gives you these blows.

“We want to continue adding (against) the Faroe Islands. We must call on the fans of Gijon to honour Luis Enrique.”

There was a minute’s silence in memory of Xana ahead of kick-off in the Romanian capital.

Enrique had been absent for qualifiers against Malta, the Faroe Islands and Sweden earlier this year due to his personal circumstances, before stepping down.

Robert Moreno took charge of the team for the first time as permanent head coach on Thursday, having previously filled in on an interim basis.

Sergio Ramos’ penalty and a strike from Paco Alcacer earned Moreno a debut victory, which was made nervy by Romania substitute Florin Andone halving the deficit with half an hour to play and Diego Llorente’s 79th-minute dismissal.

Arrizabalaga, who was selected ahead of Manchester United’s David De Gea, then twice saved from George Puscas in stoppage time as the visitors hung on.

Moreno praised the crucial late contribution of the 24-year-old.

“I am glad that he helped us in the end, but I am just as happy with the work of others,” said Moreno.

“It is true that it has saved us in the end, and that stands out.

“I encourage everyone to continue working and they will give us joy in the future.”

Spain had looked on course for a comfortable victory after dominating proceedings but were almost made to pay for numerous missed chances.

Moreno added: “In the second half, with the score against them (Romania), they have opened up a little more.

“They are a complicated team and in the end these things happen in football.

“We would like the whole game to have been like the first half but you do not always get that.”

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Real Madrid star Gareth Bale ‘raring to go’ for Wales in Euro 2020 qualifier

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Gareth Bale says he feels more settled and is “raring to go” for Wales on Friday.

Ryan Giggs’ team take on Azerbaijan on Friday in a European Championship qualifying match.

Bale looked set to leave Real Madrid for a big-money move to China this summer, 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 16 with two goals in the 2-2 LaLiga draw at Villarreal on Sunday, although he did blot his copybook by being dismissed in stoppage time.

Bale told a press conference: “The transfer window has closed. 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 team-mate Thibaut Courtois suggested in an interview that Bale is generally isolated from the squad and would rather play golf on the weekend than bond with the team.

That earned him the nickname ‘The Golfer’, but Bale is 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 claimed not being picked by Harry Redknapp at Spurs “for a year” was a harder time in his career.

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

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

Bale added: “We know what we need to do. It was disappointing what happened in the summer but we have the chance to put it right.”

Gareth Bale and Ryan Giggs

Gareth Bale and Ryan Giggs

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

However, the boss revealed that Ben Woodburn is likely to be missing against Azerbaijan.

The Liverpool forward, currently on loan at Sky Bet League One side Oxford, is struggling with a bug.

However, Giggs confirmed that the rest of his squad are fit and available – including Daniel James.

Manchester United’s summer 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’ 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.”

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Future of Welsh football buoyed by Dan James start at Man United and emerging new wave

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Dan James and Ethan Ampadu (l) are two of Wales' bright young stars.

Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey remain the nation’s poster boys, but there is rising wave of young talent behind them ready to carry Welsh football forward.

Fans have long been thankful for their two gallant giants, standing tall in a sea of relative nobodies. The likes of David Cotterill (Birmingham City), George Williams (Gillingham) Simon Church (Aberdeen), Owain Fon Williams (Inverness Caledonian Thistle) and Hal Robson-Kanu, who was without a club, were all part of a squad that wrote a fairytale, and re-wrote history, by reaching the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time at Euro 2016.

Now on the road to Euro 2020, and with yet another failed World Cup qualifying campaign behind them, Wales head into a crucial fixture with Azerbaijan on Friday. Following back-to-back defeats to Croatia and Hungary, victory is vital.

They need their dynamic duo more than ever. But while Bale is enjoying something of a Real Madrid renaissance, Ramsey is ruled out by injury.

It had been hoped the former Arsenal man – who made a high-profile switch to Juventus this summer – might make his first international appearance in nearly 10 months.

But even though he made his Bianconeri bow in a pre-season friendly against Triestina, it is thought he hasn’t fully recovered from the hamstring injury that curtailed his final season with the Gunners and ruled him out of the first three qualifiers against Slovakia, as well as the Croatia and Hungary defeats.

It is a situation that might ordinarily fill Dragons disciples with dread. But remember that new young wave we mentioned earlier? It is forming into a swell.

Daniel James has made a scorching start to his Manchester United career with three goals in his first four games.

Bale and Ramsey have been the standard bearers for Wales for the best part of a decade.

Bale and Ramsey have been the standard bearers for Wales for the best part of a decade.

Of the Red Devils’ three new recruits this summer it was expected he would take the longest to settle. After all, he arrived off the back of just his maiden season in senior football.

Harry Maguire has 20 England caps and starred in their run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals. And although Aaron Wan-Bissaka is in a similar situation to James, he enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in the Premier League last year with Crystal Palace.

James, 21, finished 2018/19 in mid-table of the Championship, with Swansea. And yet the pint-sized winger has looked like a seasoned pro, shimmering in an otherwise spluttering start from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.

His searing speed is already proving an asset – he was on hand to receive Paul Pogba’s pass following a fine counter-attack to score on debut and nail Chelsea’s coffin shut on the opening day – and he is the sixth most fouled player in the Premier League.

Felled every 25.9 minutes, yet he has played fewer minutes than all of the top five. He has also shown cold-blooded composure with his sublime finishes against Palace and Southampton.

He is the most high-profile Dragon roaring, but by no means the only one. Harry Wilson – effervescent under Frank Lampard at Derby County last season – is burning bright on loan at Bournemouth.

A scorer of stunning and crucial goals for the Rams in the Championship, Wilson, 22, showed he can do it at the top level too with a ferocious free-kick against Premier League champions Manchester City. It’s already a goal-of-the-season contender.

Team-mate Chris Mepham, 21, also has a goal to his name, too.

In the second tier, defenders Conor Roberts, 23, and Joe Rodon, 21, have been the backbone of Swansea’s scintillating start to the season. Right-back Roberts has an assist for the unbeaten Championship leaders, while centre-back Rodon is primed to win his first senior cap against Azerbaijan or in Monday’s friendly versus Belarus.

Midfield metronome Jonny Williams is impressing with promoted Charlton, who are second, and jointly leads the league with four assists. What a fillip it would be for boss Ryan Giggs if the 25-year-old could finally fulfil his promise after a stop-start career to date.

All this and we haven’t even mentioned David Brooks – the man earmarked as a potential successor to either Bale or Ramsey’s mantle as a future Wales talisman.

Brooks enjoyed a superb 2018/19 season with Bournemouth.

Brooks enjoyed a superb 2018/19 season with Bournemouth.

The injured forward took the Premier League by storm following a seamless transition from Sheffield United in the Championship to the Cherries last term – the now 22-year-old notching seven times and laying on five assists.

Another player set for stardom, meanwhile, is Ethan Ampadu, just 18. The Chelsea starlet signed a season-long loan deal with Bundesliga big boys RB Leipzig, though he is yet to make an appearance.

Bale, 30, and Ramsey, 28, are hitting their prime and have 77 and 58 caps to their names respectively. Theoretically, they have many more years ahead of them and Welsh fans will hope to see many more resplendent displays in a red shirt from the nation’s torchbearers.

But the next generation’s time is now, judging by how most of them have started the new campaign.

The Dragons have enjoyed a drastic upturn in fortunes in the last decade. Good times were ushered in by revolutionary Gary Speed, with Chris Coleman eventually building on his excellent foundations to bring about the best ever times for a nation that had poignantly come through its greatest tragedy.

Giggs is still finding his feet as a manager, and yet he arguably has a more talented squad at his disposal than either of his two predecessors. Perhaps he is even in control of the most exciting generation of Welsh players ever.

If the new wave and old guard can get on the same wavelength, Welsh football could find itself at high tide.

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