Belfast Telegraph

O'Neill denied Bale challenge

By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland have been denied the chance to thwart Gareth Bale in next week's friendly.

The Real Madrid winger has been left out of Chris Coleman's squad for the games against Michael O'Neill's side and Ukraine.

Bale has been omitted following talks between Wales and Real Madrid.

It will be disappointing news for O'Neill as he was hoping to test a plan to stop a world class player ahead of the Euro 2016 finals with Northern Ireland coming up against star performers including Poland's Robert Lewandowski.

Bale (26) has played little since Zinedine Zidane became Real coach in January because of calf problems and his wife is due to give birth to their second child next week.

"It's not just the games, it's the travelling," said Coleman, whose side face Northern Ireland in Cardiff on Thursday. "It was a joint decision with Real Madrid. It suits both parties that he doesn't play. We only discussed the physical element, but if his wife is due to give birth that's another issue. If it's possible he's always with us.

"People said we wouldn't get him as much when he went to Real Madrid two years ago, but he's played his best football for us in that time."

Wales are also without Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey (thigh), West Ham defender James Collins (hamstring) and Newcastle full-back Paul Dummett (hamstring). David Edwards is also recovering from a fractured metatarsal but the Wolves midfielder faces a race to be fit for the finals in France.

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