Gareth Bale was not drawn to answering questions over his immediate future in the game following Wales’ exit from Euro 2020 after a 4-0 defeat to Denmark in Amsterdam.
Prior to the tournament, the 31-year-old said he had made a decision on his future but that he would wait until after this summer’s Euros before making it public because it would “cause chaos”.
Denmark inflicted Wales’ heaviest defeat in nine years at the Johan Cruyff Arena on Saturday to reach the quarter-finals as Kasper Dolberg struck in each half while Joakim Maehle and Martin Braithwaite also got in on the act late on.
Bale cut short a post-match interview when asked about his future in international football after his country’s crushing loss in the last 16.
Manager Robert Page later labelled the question insensitive and said Bale had done the right thing to walk away from the pitchside interview.
“I know you were asked yesterday if this was going to be your last game for Wales and you said you wanted at least another one…” was as far as the BBC reporter got before a visibly annoyed Bale walked off camera.
“Like any other player in the changing room right now, he is disappointed,” Page told the post-match news conference.
“Why would he want to answer a question about his future? For me it’s an insensitive question.
“What is the point of asking that when he’s just come off the pitch after a defeat? Emotions are raw, so he’s done the right thing by walking away and gathering his thoughts.”
Bale scored 16 goals for Tottenham during the 2020/21 season but is due to return to Real Madrid, where his contract expires in the summer of 2022.
Earlier, the forward suggested refereeing decisions had gone against the Welsh, who ended the game down to 10 men when Harry Wilson was sent off for tripping an opponent.
Bale was adamant there was a foul on Kieffer Moore during the build-up to Denmark’s second goal soon after half-time, which left Wales with a considerable hurdle to get back in the game.
“If you play the ball through the back of someone it’s a foul. I think the referee (German Daniel Siebert) might have been influenced by the crowd,” he said.
But overall it was a chance lost for the Welsh, who were surprise semi-finalists at the last Euros in France five years ago.
“It’s not how we wanted the game to go. We conceded a goal and the game changed a bit. We came out second half and conceded which killed the momentum on our part,” added Bale.
“The boys are angry and frustrated but I’d rather we went out kicking and screaming than laying off and doing nothing.
“We missed an opportunity but what we can’t fault is the effort and that’s the minimum requirement from the squad.”
Analysis: What next for Wales and Bale?
Sky Sports reporter Geraint Hughes:
“Bale as the captain of Wales has to fulfil a number of duties, including those contractual duties to the media in the immediate aftermath of a game.
“It’s part of the job and it was coming to the end of the interview when he was asked about whether this was his last match in a Wales shirt but Bale didn’t even answer the question. He rolled his eyes and took a turn to the left and walked away.
“Rob Page was obviously raw in emotion and disappointment as he gave an honest assessment to every question he was asked after the game. He was asked about how Gareth and the rest of his players were feeling in the dressing room.
“Many people would say asking Bale about his future is legitimate given the player himself said he would discuss his future once the tournament is over.
“Page has fronted up throughout the tournament. Fatigue is not an excuse and mustn’t be used as one. I don’t think Page, his coaching staff and the medics will use it as an excuse.
“They’ve prepared for this extraordinarily well. All the travel would’ve been well looked after by people at the FA of Wales who know what they’re doing. Compared to other teams, it has been a different experience.
“They have had to do a lot of flying, travelling and they’ve not had huge reams of support as well. Wales will lick their wounds back in their team hotel but Page will not want that to linger for too much longer.
“Longer term, there is a plan. It’s the third-youngest squad at the Euros, they’re developing this pathway to bring players through the age groups from the U17s, to the U21s and into the senior squad. They want to be serial qualifiers for major tournaments – that is the overall long-term plan.
“However heart-breaking this is for Wales fans and for the players as well, there is a longer-term plan for a brighter future. Being here at this Euros and qualifying out of the group is part of that plan as well.
“Page has reiterated this evening that he will remain in charge until he is told otherwise. I would expect him to be in charge of the World Cup qualifiers away in Belarus and at home to Estonia in September.”
Dolberg dazzles for Denmark
It was only fitting that Dolberg returned to his old stomping ground in Amsterdam, a place that shaped his professional career, to inspire Denmark.
The 23-year-old powerfully-built forward from Silkeborg, started out on the left wing before he found his shooting boots at Ajax under the watchful eyes of then-assistant coach Dennis Bergkamp in 2015.
While his style has been often compared with another Dutch great Marco van Basten, Dolberg’s ability to find pockets of space in forward areas underlined the influence of Bergkamp – the gold standard for modern Dutch playmakers.
His playmaking ability was once again at the forefront as he played a neat give-and-go with Mikkel Damsgaard between the lines, before using two Welsh defenders as a shield to curl the ball into the far corner.
Dolberg nearly doubled the lead with a well-timed backheel flick that was saved by Wales goalkeeper Danny Ward, but made amends when he cashed in on a defensive error from Wales defender Neco Williams to score from close range.
In his first start of the tournament in the absence of the injured Yussuf Poulsen, Dolberg thrived as the focal point of Denmark’s attack to give coach Kasper Hjulmand a selection headache before the quarter-final.
With his team in the driving seat on Saturday, Dolberg was substituted in the 69th minute and received a standing ovation from thousands of Danish fans who made their first away trip of the tournament after three games in Copenhagen.
“I actually don’t know how I feel. This is total madness,” said Dolberg, who won a league title with Ajax before joining Nice in 2019.
“It was here it all started for me, and to play here again in this setting was insane,” he told Danish broadcaster DR.
Hjulmand’s tactical tweak
Denmark finished with an emphatic and deserved win after weathering a Welsh storm in the opening 20 minutes.
They struggled for control at the start and were forced to switch from Hjulmand’s reliable 3-4-3 system to a back four, pushing defender Andreas Christensen up as a defensive midfielder to support Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Thomas Delaney.
Christensen slotted in effortlessly in the midfield as the Danes increased their tempo going forward while the defender was also quick to track back and bail out his defence in set-piece situations.
“We are able to be flexible. Everything wasn’t perfect during the game but we improved and that’s something we’ve done several times,” Hjulmand said.
Full back Joakim Maehle, another beneficiary of the new fluid system, made it 3-0 in the closing stages before Braithwaite got on the scoresheet as Denmark booked a place in the quarter-finals for the first time since 2004.
“The self-confidence and the courage we bring is something we must take even further,” Maehle told TV3. “We’re not worried who we’re going to meet. We are focusing on ourselves and our qualities.”
Opta stats – Wales’ red mist
- Denmark have won each of their last four competitive meetings with Wales in a run stretching back to June 1999, with today’s clash the first meeting between the sides in a major tournament.
- Wales have lost consecutive major tournament matches for the first time in their history (World Cup/Euros).
- Wales are the first team to receive two red cards in a single edition of the European Championship since Russia and Switzerland in 2004.
- Mikkel Damsgaard has been involved in seven goals in his six appearances in all competitions for the Danes (3 goals, 4 assists). Damsgaard (20 years 358 days) became the youngest player to assist a goal in a EURO knock-out game since Cristiano Ronaldo in 2004 vs Netherlands (19 years 146 days).
- Since the start of 2019, only Christian Eriksen (11) has scored more goals in all competitions for Denmark than Kasper Dolberg (8). Dolberg (23 years 263 days) became the youngest player to score for Denmark in the knockout stages of the European Championships.
- Kasper Dolberg became the second Denmark player to score two goals in a knockout game at a major tournament (World Cup/Euros) after Henrik Larsen v Netherlands at Euro 1992.
Denmark will face either Netherlands or Czech Republic in the Euro 2020 quarter-finals in Baku on Saturday July 3.