Roberto Mancini says Italy must "take some time to reflect" and "work towards the future" after they failed to qualify for a second consecutive World Cup.

The Azzurri will not feature in the tournament in Qatar this year after suffering a sensational 1-0 play-off defeat to North Macedonia on Thursday.

Italy won Euro 2020 by beating England on penalties in the final at Wembley last July, but suffered heartbreak in Palermo this week.

Mancini's future has been called into question in certain quarters, but the head coach says it is important to look at where his side felt short and put the agony behind them.

He posted on Instagram: "Sometimes football can be a ruthless metaphor for life.

"Last summer we were on the top of Europe after having completed one of the most beautiful feats in the history of the national team. A few hours ago we woke up in one of the most dramatic points.

"We have gone from total joy to frustrating disappointment.

"It is really hard to accept, but also accepting the defeats in life is part of a healthy path of human and sporting growth.

"Let's take some time to reflect and understand clearly. The only right move now is to raise your head and work towards the future."

Roberto Mancini has "worked miracles" in charge of Italy and should not be hounded out of the role after their stunning failure to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.

That is the view of former Italy international Antonio Cassano, who described the current Azzurri vintage as "mediocre", citing last year's Euro 2020 triumph as proof of Mancini's brilliance.

Italy suffered a shock 1-0 loss to North Macedonia on Thursday to miss out on the World Cup for a second edition in a row, with some pointing the finger of blame of boss Mancini.

However, Cassano, who played 39 times and scored 10 goals for his country, said those critics "should be ashamed".

"Let's face it: our national team is a mediocre team and Mancini took them to the top of Europe last summer, making a miracle, playing in a way never seen before," he told Bobo TV. 

"I am truly sorry for Roberto, whoever asks for his resignation should be ashamed.

"We should all pray that Mancini will remain at the helm of the national team, he is the lifeline of Italy.

"[Ciro] Immobile, [Lorenzo] Insigne... many players seemed to me in difficulty. Italy has a mediocre team and Mancini had worked miracles so far."

The 39-year-old, who last played for his country in 2014, said Italy had been missing a talisman since Christian Vieri left the international stage in 2005.

He said: "Bobo, we haven't had a striker in the national team since you left."

Roberto Mancini will be searching for answers after Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup, and his mother has helpfully provided one: Mario Balotelli should have been called up.

Speaking on Rai Radio 1 on Friday, Marianna Puolo said Mancini's Azzurri would have benefited from Balotelli's power, and his inclusion could have staved off what played out in Palermo, where Italy lost 1-0 to North Macedonia.

Balotelli, a one-time teenage wonder who now plays for Adana Demirspor in Turkey's Super Lig, has long been a favourite with Mancini, dating back to their time together as player and coach at Inter and Manchester City.

Now 31, Balotelli earned a recall for an Italy training camp at the beginning of this year. He had not been capped by Italy since head coach Mancini played him three times in 2018, which followed a four-year absence from the national team.

There was no room for Balotelli in Italy's squad for the World Cup play-offs, however, and the semi-final defeat to North Macedonia means the four-time champions will miss this year's finals in Qatar, just as they were absent in Russia four years ago.

"We had the game in our hand, but the attack was not great," said Mancini's mother.

"What would I have done different? I would have called Balotelli, because he has incredible physical strength and nobody stops him in front of goal.

"Sometimes he does stupid things, but I would have called him."

Italy had 32 shots but could not find a goal against North Macedonia, who had four and hit the back of Gianluigi Donnarumma's net in stoppage time, breaking Italian hearts.

Puolo agreed with her son's post-match verdict that it would go down at the biggest disappointment of his career.

"Yes, because in his career he has more or less always done well," she said. "I heard him this morning, he was sorry, but we know that these things happen in sport."

Jorginho's 90th-minute missed penalty at 1-1 against Switzerland in Italy's penultimate group-stage qualifier ultimately proved highly costly. Had he tucked it away, Italy would have likely not needed a play-off.

Chelsea midfielder Jorginho also missed from the spot in the first game against Switzerland, which finished as a draw, too.

Mancini's mother gave her verdict on Jorginho, saying: "Of course he didn't do it on purpose, poor thing, but if you miss two or three penalties, in the end, you pay for it."

Fabio Capello believes Italy's failure to qualify for back-to-back World Cups is due to a national obsession with following Pep Guardiola's Barcelona blueprint.

Former Milan, Real Madrid, Juventus and Roma boss Capello claims Italian football should have been following the German 'heavy metal' model rather than copying the more intricate noodling of the Spanish style of play.

Capello, who also coached Russia and England, cannot see why Italy would go against their great strengths by trying to match the high technical levels of Spain.

He told Sky Sport Italia: "The explanation is very simple. I have been saying for a long time that we are copying Guardiola's football of 15 years ago."

The 75-year-old Capello said this meant "all sideways passing, no verticality, little physical strength".

Guardiola built a Barcelona team on a possession-based game that was full of nuance, with players drilled to understand and adhere to its intricacies, and they became arguably the greatest club side of all time.

Capello does not see Italian players having the skill set to follow such a formula for success.

"Instead we should follow Klopp's model, a German-style football," Capello said.

Italy won the delayed Euro 2020 tournament last year, beating England on penalties in the Wembley final, but a 1-0 play-off semi-final defeat to North Macedonia on Thursday knocked them out of contention to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.

Roberto Mancini's team had 564 passes to 309 by North Macedonia, owning 65.4 per cent of possession, and led the shot count 32-4, only to be stunned by a stoppage-time goal from the visitors in Palermo.

The Azzurri will be spectators from a distance for the tournament in November and December, having also missed out on the Russia 2018 finals.

"Macedonia on a physical level were superior to us in terms of dynamism, strength and determination," Capello said. "It is all clear: until we understand that the model to be copied is the German one, we will not move forward, because if we want to do it like the Spaniards, who have a superior technique, we will never be able to do it, we always do it at 50 per cent."

Capello said the Italian team to take heed of the German example were Atalanta, whose results showed it had benefits. They sit fifth in Serie A, having finished third last season, and are through to the Europa League quarter-finals.

"In Europe we play at a different pace, and we are not used to it," Capello said. "At the base there is this wrong idea of ​​football. We are the country of passing back to the goalkeeper."

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!"

Italy's humiliating failure to qualify for the World Cup means "profound change" must follow the sorrow, according to Serie A president Lorenzo Casini.

A stunning 1-0 defeat to North Macedonia in Thursday's play-off semi-final in Palermo has left Italy knowing they will miss consecutive World Cups for the first time in their history.

The Azzurri will be absent at Qatar 2022, just as they played no part in Russia 2018, and there will be a process whereby some are likely to be held to account over such a dire outcome for the four-time winners.

Elation at triumphing at Euro 2020 has been replaced by suspicions that was a flicker of rude health amid serious worries over the health of the Italian game.

Casini said on Friday: "Failure to qualify for the final phase of the World Cup is a failure for the whole of Italian football, which must lead everyone to serious reflection and a profound change in our system.

"Right now I am only experiencing the great disappointment of all the fans. I am very sorry when I think of the girls and boys who are still waiting to see Italy at the World Cup and who must be able to continue growing in the blue dream.

"Serie A clubs and their players have always responded positively to the call of the national team and always will, also because it is about the sporting commitment that unites the country and should always make us overcome every allegiance and every division. The national team belongs to everyone."

Roberto Mancini was backed to stay on as head coach by Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president Gabriele Gravina in the immediate aftermath of Italy's defeat.

Gravina wanted the previous round of Serie A fixtures to be postponed to give Italy more time to prepare for the game, but his request was denied by the league. 

"I'm sorry the boys only met for one day to prepare for the game," Gravina said after Thursday's game. "It doesn't help, but I don't want to cause a controversy."

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.

Blagoja Milevski felt North Macedonia "won Italian style against the Italians" after his side sensationally ended the European champions' bid to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

Aleksandar Trajkovski's long-range stoppage-time strike secured a stunning upset for the underdogs in a World Cup qualifying semi-final at Renzo Barbera on Thursday.

Italy dominated the game in Palermo, but failed to find the back of the net from 32 shots and were made to pay for their lack of a cutting edge.

Trajkovski's brilliant finish was North Macedonia's second shot on target as they set up a showdown with Portugal at Estadio do Dragao next Tuesday for a place in the finals in Qatar.

North Macedonia head coach Milevski felt his team played Italy at their own game.

"We won Italian style against the Italians, a goal from just two shots," he said. 

"I'm very happy for this victory, I'm proud for these guys. All energy from tomorrow will be on Portugal.

"I am very happy for Trajkovski with his goal. The game was prepared in this way, we know that Italy are a great team with several champions but we played as we should.

"We know our strengths. Before the game I told the guys to have fun and they did just that."

North Macedonia have never played in a World Cup and will have to pull off another major surprise in Porto to beat a Portugal side that beat Turkey 3-1 on Thursday.

Cristiano Ronaldo's dip in goalscoring form is of no concern to Fernando Santos, who felt he was "tremendous" in Portugal's World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final success against Turkey. 

First-half efforts from Otavio and Diogo Jota put Portugal in control in Porto, but Burak Yilmaz pulled one back after the hour mark and had a chance to equalise from the penalty spot with five minutes remaining. 

However, Yilmaz missed the target from 12 yards and Matheus Nunes completed a 3-1 win for the hosts in stoppage time, with Ronaldo hitting the bar in the final act of the game. 

The Manchester United forward had five efforts on goal and hit the target with two of them. Diogo Jota (38), who played 20 minutes fewer than Ronaldo, was Portugal's only outfield starter with fewer touches than him (40).  

Ronaldo also failed to find the back of the net in Portugal's draw with the Republic of Ireland and the defeat to Serbia that cost Santos' men automatic qualification for Qatar. 

He has scored just four goals in his past 13 appearances in all competitions for club and country, but the Portugal boss is unconcerned by his displays. 

"Ronaldo is judged on the goals he scores, it's always that way," said Santos. 

"From my perspective, he played a tremendous game, bringing the group together, working and pressing with the intensity of the game. 

"He didn't score, but that doesn't invalidate what was an excellent performance for Ronaldo. He had several opportunities. He didn't convert them, but he opened up a lot of spaces for others and that's something to highlight."

Ronaldo is one of several veterans in the side that it has been suggested should be phased out by Santos to make way for a new generation, but the coach spoke out in defence of the more experienced options at his disposal. 

"The one that everyone is asking to be replaced is the only golden generation. I'm very sorry to say this, but it is the only one that has brought a trophy to Portugal," he said. 

"Now, if you ask me if Portuguese football has a bright future ahead of it, with high-quality players capable of responding at any time, I'd say yes. 

"Portugal have always had great players, but the golden generation is the one that won the gold." 

Roberto Mancini has been backed to stay on as head coach by FIGC president Gabriele Gravina despite Italy’s failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. 

The Azzurri succumbed to a sensational 1-0 defeat to North Macedonia in a play-off semi-final in Palermo on Thursday, ending their hopes of securing a place in the tournament in Qatar this year. 

Having missed out on a spot at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Italy will not feature in two successive editions of the competition for the first time in their history. 

However, with Mancini having led the team on a 37-game unbeaten run that included Euro 2020 glory and only ended last October, Gravina still believes he is the right man for the job. 

"I hope Mancini will continue with us. He has a commitment to the project," Gravina told Rai Sport. 

"I hope, like all the other Italians, that he will dispose of the waste from this elimination and remain at the helm to continue our work. I still have a lot of energy. 

"I'm sorry, I'm truly embittered for all our fans. The great joy of the previous summer remains, but also the great bitterness of this defeat. We didn't expect it. 

"The guys were splendid and will continue to be so. They gave our country an extraordinary dream just a few months ago. However, tonight's defeat makes us understand there is something we need to do."

Gravina wanted the previous round of Serie A fixtures be postponed to give Italy more time to prepare for the game but his request was denied by the league. 

"I'm sorry the boys only met for one day to prepare for the game. It doesn't help, but I don't want to cause a controversy," he added. 

Gareth Bale scored a pair of stunning goals to secure a home World Cup play-off final for Wales against either Scotland or Ukraine.

Wales have not qualified for a World Cup since 1958 and surely will not get a better opportunity than ahead of Qatar 2022.

Rob Page's side hosted Austria in their play-off semi-final on Thursday and once again relied on Real Madrid superstar Bale to prove the difference in a 2-1 win.

He netted the opener with a sublime first-half free-kick, then doubled Wales' lead with another brilliant effort, placed high past the Austria goalkeeper.

Only a Ben Davies own goal – deflecting Marcel Sabitzer's shot beyond Wayne Hennessey – threatened to spoil the Welsh party, as they held on despite Bale's withdrawal in stoppage time with an apparent groin injury.

Bale will at least have time to recover from that issue before the final, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine saw the former banned from FIFA competitions and the latter allowed to postpone their semi against Scotland.

No date has yet been set for the Scotland tie, with Steve Clarke's men instead facing Poland – Russia's planned play-off opponents – in a friendly they drew 1-1 on Thursday.

Krzysztof Piatek's 94th-minute penalty rescued a draw for Poland, albeit that goal came earlier than Sweden's decisive strike against Czech Republic.

Sweden will be Poland's final opponents after Robin Quaison finished off a smart team move with 10 minutes remaining in extra time following a goalless draw – that 1-0 victory teeing up the trip to Chorzow on Tuesday.

Italy have done all this before.

The Azzurri were World Cup regulars – and contenders – until remarkably failing to qualify for the first time since the 1958 tournament when they were beaten by Sweden in the play-offs for Russia 2018.

Of course, Italy feared a repeat when they were consigned to the play-off route again for Qatar 2022, but a potential final against Portugal was surely of greater concern than a home semi with North Macedonia.

Sensationally, however, the visitors stunned the European champions in Palermo, where Aleksandar Trajkovski's 92nd-minute blast secured the unlikeliest of 1-0 wins.

It means Italy are yet again featuring on a list of shock World Cup absentees.

ITALY/SPAIN 1958

Until these past two upsets, Italy's only failure to qualify for the World Cup had come in the 1950s. Needing to beat Northern Ireland in their final game of the three-team group, the Azzurri slumped to a 2-1 loss in Belfast. More surprising was the absence of Spain, as a team of legends including Alfredo Di Stefano and Luis Suarez missed out on a place in Sweden. A draw with Switzerland and defeat to Scotland meant that 4-1 victories in both return matches were not enough to salvage their hopes.

ENGLAND 1974

England were on top of the world in 1966 having lifted the Jules Rimet trophy on home turf. It remains the Three Lions' only triumph at a World Cup and, eight years later, England were not even at the tournament held in West Germany. In a three-team group with Wales and Poland, a 2-0 defeat and 1-1 draw with the latter meant Alf Ramsey's side did not qualify. Twenty years later, England again disappointed as they failed to qualify for USA '94 under Graham Taylor.

CZECHOSLOVAKIA 1978

Having won the European Championship two years previously with their attractive brand of football, there were high hopes for Czechoslovakia heading into qualifying for the tournament in Argentina. However, battles of Britain proved their downfall as losses in Wales and Scotland scuppered their hopes of adding World Cup glory to their European triumph.

NETHERLANDS 1986

After reaching the World Cup final in both 1974 and 1978, there was a down period for Netherlands, who missed out in '82 and also failed to qualify for Euro '84. A crop of players including Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, and Marco van Basten were expected to bring about a turnaround in fortunes for the Dutch ahead of the next World Cup in Mexico. However, they had to settle for a play-off against neighbours Belgium after finishing second in their qualifying group, and Georges Grun's header with just five minutes left on the clock saw them crash out on away goals. Netherlands also failed to qualify in 2002 and were not in Russia four years ago.

FRANCE 1994

Les Bleus had failed to qualify for Italia '90 having finished third in 1986. That failure was accepted as something of a transitional period, but a star-studded team featuring the likes of Laurent Blanc, Jean-Pierre Papin and Eric Cantona were unable to secure the necessary result against Bulgaria in their final qualifier for the 1994 World Cup in the United States. France led through Eric Cantona but were pegged back by an Emil Kostadinov leveller before half-time. Gerard Houllier's side looked set to cling on to the point that would see them through until David Ginola infamously gave the ball away with an ill-judged cross in the final minute that allowed Kostadinov to make it 2-1 on the break, leaving French hopes dashed.

EGYPT 2010

Incredibly, Egypt's appearance at the 2018 World Cup was their first since 1990. That is despite their 2000s domination of the Africa Cup of Nations, with three consecutive victories between 2006 and 2010. Their failure to reach South Africa 12 years ago was arguably the greatest disappointment. After finishing with an identical record to Algeria, a play-off was needed to separate the two, with Egypt falling to a 1-0 defeat to extend their wait for a return to the global stage.

CHILE 2018

The depth of talent in South America means there are always likely to be notable casualties, but even then the two-time defending Copa America champions would have expected to contend on a global stage in Russia. However, Chile could only finish sixth in an incredibly tight group, without even a play-off to show for their efforts while Lionel Messi inspired Argentina to qualification with a hat-trick against Ecuador – his own participation in the finals having been in question until that point.

Italy were "destroyed" by their shock defeat to North Macedonia, with Giorgio Chiellini saying their failure to qualify for the World Cup opened "a great void". 

The reigning European champions fell to a surprise 1-0 defeat at home to North Macedonia, with former Palermo attacker Aleksandar Trajkovski netting a surprise winner for the visitors in the 92nd minute. 

Italy have now failed to qualify for two straight World Cups. They will not be able to feature on that stage until 2026, with their only win in the competition since they triumphed in 2006 coming against England in the 2014 group stage.

The defeat to North Macedonia marked an incredible turnaround in fortunes for Italy, who won Euro 2020 as part of a 37-game undefeated streak that ended in October – a month after they dropped valuable points against Bulgaria and Switzerland in their World Cup qualifying group. 

Roberto Mancini's side ended up missing out on top spot to Switzerland after two further draws, and their capitulation at the Renzo Barbera was tough for Chiellini to take. 

"It's hard to explain. There is great disappointment. We played a great match but just couldn't score," Chiellini told Rai Sport. 

"We weren't presumptuous. We were missing something. We made mistakes from September until today and we paid for them. 

"I am proud of this team, but it's obvious we are disappointed and destroyed. We have to start again. 

"It's difficult to comment so quickly. There will remain a great void and I hope this void will give the energy needed to restart. We have to start against to win again and get back to the top of the European Championship and in four years go to the World Cup." 

Veteran defender Chiellini refused to confirm whether the loss would prove to be his final match for Italy, saying "now is not the right moment."

Burak Yilmaz's late penalty miss proved costly as Turkey fell to a 3-1 loss to Portugal in their 2022 World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final on Thursday.  

Otavio scored his second international goal in just his third cap to put Portugal in front, with Diogo Jota doubling their advantage before half-time.  

Yilmaz pulled one back for Turkey after the hour mark and had a chance to take the game to extra time by making it 2-2 after referee Daniel Siebert awarded the visitors a penalty for Jose Fonte clipping Enes Unal.  

However, Yilmaz's spot-kick clipped the crossbar on its way over and Matheus Nunes rubbed salt into the wound in stoppage time, ensuring it was Portugal who advanced to the final against North Macedonia, who earned a shock 1-0 triumph over European champions Italy.

Portugal started brightly and took the lead when Otavio scored on the follow-up after Bernardo Silva's shot was tipped onto the post by Ugurcan Cakir. 

Turkey responded positively to going behind but Portugal doubled their advantage before half-time when Jota guided Otavio's exquisite delivery into the bottom-right corner with a pinpoint header.  

Yilmaz pulled one back for Turkey when he stabbed a cool finish past Diogo Costa in the 66th minute after an excellent one-two with Cengiz Under.  

The game looked destined to be heading for extra time when the referee pointed to the spot after a trip to the pitchside monitor with five minutes remaining, but Yilmaz was unable to convert. 

It proved to be Turkey's undoing as substitute Matheus put the result beyond doubt when he finished off a pass from Rafael Leao in the 94th minute to send Portugal through.

Gareth Bale has declared himself fit to start for Wales in Thursday's World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final against Austria, despite his limited playing time for Real Madrid.

The 32-year-old was not part of Madrid's squad for Sunday's 4-0 defeat to fierce rivals Barcelona, which head coach Carlo Ancelotti put down to illness.

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.

Despite repeated setbacks, the former Tottenham star has played 233 minutes for Wales across four games this season, helping to keep his side's qualifying dreams alive.

And Bale insists he is capable of lasting the distance against Austria, with the winners going on to face either Scotland or the Czech Republic in June's rescheduled final.

"Obviously it's normal to have some [injury] niggles now and again," he said at Wednesday's pre-match news conference. 

"I've been good. I've been training for what, the last two and a half months. I got some minutes maybe three weeks ago or so. So now I'm in very good shape. 

"I'm obviously in a lot better shape than I was for the last camp, where I'd been out for about three months. I've been training now over the last couple of days. 

"I'm ready to play whatever's necessary. And yeah, we'll give it everything we can."

 

While Ancelotti implied Bale's most recent absence was down to illness, reports in Spain suggested the forward ruled himself out of contention because of a back strain.

Asked to clarify why he was not part of the squad to face Barcelona, Bale said: "I don't need to. I don't need to tell anyone what was up.

"I don't need to give anyone anything to use against me. Everything is fine now, I have no issue."

Bale earned cap number 100 for Wales in November's win over Belarus and has scored 36 goals and assisted 23 more over that period.

And after representing his country at Euro 2016 and Euro 2020, Bale is now fully focused on leading his side to a first World Cup finals since 1958.

"For sure, the Austria game will be one of biggest I've played in," he said. "Qualifying for a World Cup is something I want to achieve, as do the fans and the country. 

"We need to take it in our stride like we always do. Everyone will step up – it's what we do best.

"To get to the World Cup with Wales would be an incredible achievement. We'll fight for our country like we always do."

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