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FOOTBALL

Bale writes goodbye letter to Real Madrid: ‘This dream became a reality’

Gareth Bale wrote a farewell letter to Real Madrid on Wednesday, the Welshman bringing an end to his nine-year spell at the Spanish club, where he said his "dream became a reality".

Bale writes goodbye letter to Real Madrid: 'This dream became a reality'
Real Madrid's Welsh striker Gareth Bale comes on as substitute during the UEFA Champions League Quarter-final first leg football match between Chelsea and Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, on April 6, 2022. - Madrid won the game 3-1. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / IKIMAGES / AFP)

Bale will leave Real Madrid when his contract expires at the end of June, with the 32-year-old yet to confirm what he will do next.

His future is likely to depend on whether Wales qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, with retirement a possible option if they miss out.

“I write this message to say thank you to all my teammates, past and present, my managers, the backroom staff and to the fans that supported me,” Bale wrote in a letter to Real Madrid, posted on social media in both English and Spanish.

“I arrived here nine years ago as a young man who wanted to realise my dream of playing for Real Madrid. To wear the pristine white kit, to wear the crest on my chest, to play at the Santiago Bernabeu, to win titles and to be part of what it’s so famous for, to win the Champions League.

“I can now look back, reflect and say with honesty that this dream became a reality and much, much more.

“To be a part of this club’s history and to achieve what we achieved while I was a Real Madrid player has been an incredible experience and one I will never forget.

“I also want to thank president Florentino Pérez, Jose Angel Sánchez and the board for giving me the opportunity to play for this club. Together we were able to create some moments that will live forever in the history of this club and football. It has been an honour.”

After joining Madrid from Tottenham for 100 million euros in 2013, Bale went on to win 16 major trophies with Real Madrid, including five Champions Leagues, three La Ligas and one Copa del Rey.

He also won three Club World Cups, three UEFA Super Cups and a Spanish Super Cup.

Memorable moments

More than his trophies, Bale will be remembered for a handful of spectacular moments, including his two goals scored off the bench against Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final in Kiev, the first coming from a stunning bicycle kick.

He scored another hugely important goal in the 2014 Champions League final in Lisbon, his header at the back post giving Real Madrid the lead against Atlético de Madrid in extra-time, as they went on to win the club’s long-awaited 10th European Cup.

Perhaps most memorable was Bale’s incredible solo goal at Mestalla to win the 2014 Copa del Rey final against Barcelona.

Bale’s popularity with the Real Madrid fans, though, has plummeted in recent years as injuries and a perceived lack of commitment pushed him to the fringes of the first team.

He was barely on speaking terms with Zinedine Zidane by the end of the 2017-18 season and hopes that Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure might revive his Real Madrid career were never realised.

A frosty relationship with the Spanish press harmed his reputation, with aspects of his personal life – including his passion for playing golf and a lack of fluency in Spanish – increasingly used to support the idea he had lost interest in his Real Madrid career.

The issue exploded in 2019 after Bale celebrated Wales’ qualification for Euro 2020 by standing behind a flag that read: “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order.”

Despite his heroics in the Champions League final in 2018, Bale’s role had already been significantly reduced that season under Zidane and his influence continued to dwindle even as new coaches like Julen Lopetegui, Santiago Solari, Zidane again, and most recently, Carlo Ancelotti, took charge.

Last season, Bale played only five times in La Liga and seven minutes in the Champions League, again saving his best for Wales, as he scored a hat-trick against Belarus in September and then twice against Austria in March to keep their World Cup qualification hopes alive.

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FOOTBALL

Spain thrash Costa Rica 7-0 in World Cup opener

Spain shredded Costa Rica 7-0 on Wednesday in a brutal destruction in their Group E opener which launched their bid to lift a second World Cup.

Spain thrash Costa Rica 7-0 in World Cup opener

Avoiding the fate of giants Argentina and group rivals Germany, who lost 2-1 to Japan earlier on, Luis Enrique’s fancied side sparkled at Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium, dominating possession and taking their chances mercilessly.

Ferran Torres netted twice and Marco Asensio, Dani Olmo, Gavi, Carlos Soler and Alvaro Morata were also on the scoresheet for the Euro 2020 semi-finalists in an emphatic romp.

In the past the 2010 World Cup winners have paid the price for profligacy, but all three forwards Luis Enrique selected netted in the first half to pay back his trust in them.

The coach placed Asensio at false nine, flanked by Olmo and Torres, starting with Morata and Ansu Fati on the bench.

READ ALSO: Where to watch the Qatar World Cup on TV in Spain

The coach opted to deploy Manchester City midfielder Rodri Hernandez in central defence, alongside club team-mate Aymeric Laporte, correctly anticipating his team would monopolise the ball.

It took only 11 minutes for La Roja to open the scoring, with Gavi stabbing a pass forward for Olmo to receive in the area and the RB Leipzig winger taking one sublime touch to turn and another to stroke the ball gently past Keylor Navas.

Costa Rica, who were a surprise package at the 2014 World Cup, beating Italy and Uruguay and drawing with England to top their group, were sliced apart again for the second goal 10 minutes later.

Jordi Alba’s low drilled cross was rammed home by Real Madrid forward Asensio past his former team-mate Navas, who might have done more to keep it out.

Torres stroked home from the penalty spot after Alba was fouled by Oscar Duarte –- a soft call on a hard night for Los Ticos, who were never in the game and failed to muster a shot at goal.

Barcelona forward Torres capitalised on more slack defending to fire the fourth past Navas early in the second half.

Luis Enrique was able to take off the effervescent Pedri and Torres before the hour mark in order to rest them for Sunday’s clash with Germany, and handed teenage Barcelona left-back Alejandro Balde his debut.

The 19-year-old roared up the pitch in the build-up to Spain’s fifth goal, with substitute Morata crossing for Gavi to drill home with aplomb.

Kopa Trophy winner Gavi became the third youngest goalscorer at a World Cup at 18 years and 110 days old, after Mexico’s Manuel Rosas and record holder Pele.

Soler and Morata then got in on the act with stoppage-time strikes to pile further misery on Costa Rica and help Spain flex their muscles in a perfect opening match in Qatar.

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