Tue, Nov 29, 2022 2:58 PM
By ANNE M. PETERSON, AP Sports Writer
AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — If it was Gareth Bale ’s final game for Wales, it ended rather unceremoniously.
The Wales captain was substituted at halftime of the team's match against England at the World Cup on Tuesday because of a hamstring injury.
While it was unclear when the 33-year-old Bale was hurt, it appeared he was struggling late in the first half of the team’s final Group B match. He was replaced by Brennan Johnson.
Wales crumbled once Bale went off. England scored about five minutes into the second half and added another goal a minute later, finishing with a 3-0 victory.
Wales coach Rob Page doubted it was Bale's final match with the team despite his recent battles with injury.
“I don’t think it will be the last time you see him in a Welsh jersey. There’s games starting again in March, in Euros, and we want to get off to a flying start," Page said.
Wales went into the match at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium needing a victory for a chance to advance to the knockout round in the team’s first World Cup appearance since 1958. Instead, the Welsh are headed home.
Bale had been largely ineffective in the opening half, with only seven touches as England dominated possession.
Bale, who made his senior debut with Wales in 2006, leads the team in all-time appearances with 111 and in goals with 41.
After the final whistle, Bale went with his teammates to applaud Wales' Red Wall supporter's group who cheered on their team despite the loss. But he didn't speak to reporters after the game.
The forward came to Qatar dogged by questions about whether his time with the national team was coming to an end. Asked a day before the match, Bale curtly replied “Nope.”
Following the World Cup, the next match for Wales is a European Championship qualifier against Croatia in March.
"He wants to play, and he's got a hunger and desire, and you see why when he gets the ovation he got from the supporters," Page said. "He loves playing for his country."
Bale's World Cup had started with promise. In a 1-1 draw with the United States to open the tournament, Bale pulled Wales even with a late penalty. A 2-0 loss to Iran put Wales in danger of elimination.
But time seems to be catching up with Bale, who won five Champions League trophies over nearly a decade at Real Madrid. He now plays for Los Angeles FC.
Bale helped Wales reach the semifinals at the 2016 European Championship before the team lost to eventual champion Portugal. Wales qualified for last year’s pandemic-delayed Euro 2020, where it lost to Denmark in the round of 16.
After nine years with Real Madrid, Bale came to the United States this past season to play for LAFC in Major League Soccer, signing a deal worth just under $2.4 million.
He was limited to only two starts because of injuries, but he helped LAFC win the MLS Cup when he scored the game-tying goal deep into stoppage time of extra time against the Philadelphia Union. LAFC prevailed in a penalty shootout for its first championship.
It was Bale’s third goal with LAFC and his first since Aug. 6 against Real Salt Lake. At 128 minutes, it was also the latest goal scored in MLS’ 27 seasons.