Wales striker Craig Bellamy will retire from international football at the end of the World Cup qualifying campaign next week, the 34-year-old has confirmed.
Bellamy, who plays for home-town team Cardiff City after spells at a number of Premier League clubs, including Liverpool, and a stint in Scotland at Celtic, will step down from the national side after next Tuesday’s final qualifier against Belgium.
He has won 76 caps for Wales and scored 19 goals since making his debut against Jamaica in 1998.
“Players come and go and my career has definitely come and gone,” he said. “I have to do what’s best for the national team and this group of players are the future. The next qualifiers, two-odd years, I’m not going to see it.”
Wales, who cannot qualify for the tournament in Brazil, play Macedonia in Cardiff on Friday. If Bellamy picked up a booking he would miss the second match ,against Belgium, through suspension.
The former captain is the third most-capped Welsh player and his country’s fifth highest-scorer. “I’m just grateful for every game I’ve been lucky enough to play for my country, and I really mean that,” he said. “It’s an honour to play for your country at any level at any sport. (Playing) 70-odd times, it’s been the best. Even the disappointments, even the lows, even the times I didn’t want to play again because sometimes defeats can do that to you. It will be hard to let go.”
Bellamy’s international career could be set to end with a whimper after Swansea City defender Ashley Williams became the tenth player to withdraw from Chris Coleman’s decimated Welsh squad for the games against Macedonia and Belgium.
Captain Williams is the latest to pull out as the Wales manager prepares for two games which could decide his future. Williams had long been a doubt for the double-header due to his ankle ligament injury and Swansea manager Michael Laudrup had made it clear his defender needed a rest.
But, with his squad so severely hit by withdrawals, Coleman would have wanted to field the 29-year-old if possible.
However, he has been ruled out following the result of a scan on the problem, and a Football Association of Wales (FAW) spokesman confirmed that Williams would return to his club.
It means that Coleman is now without ten of the 23-man squad he named last week.
Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale, Liverpool’s Joe Allen, Celtic midfielder Joe Ledley and Brighton’s Andrew Crofts were all withdrawn on the day of Thursday’s squad announcement, with the quintet of Adam Matthews, Ben Davies, Danny Gabbidon, Sam Ricketts and Jack Collison following on Monday.
The injury crisis could yet get worse as Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey took no part in training yesterday due to a leg injury.
Coleman has brought in nine replacements in the form of Lloyd Isgrove, Owain Tudur Jones, Danny Alfei, James Wilson, Rhoys Wiggins, Jermaine Easter, Shaun MacDonald, David Cotterill and Jazz Richards.
But the loss of Williams leaves him with painfully few centre-half options, with Chris Gunter and Tudur Jones, normally a midfielder and last capped in May 2011, currently tipped to start against Macedonia at Cardiff City Stadium on Friday.
West Ham centre-half James Collins would be the obvious candidate to be called into the squad to replace Williams. However, his dispute with Coleman over whether or not he rejected the chance to play for his country last month means the defender is highly unlikely to get a call.