Ryan Giggs has defended his decision to substitute Gareth Bale at half-time during Wales' clash with Finland, insisting the Real Madrid outcast has "had no football at all" recently.
Wales kicked off their latest UEFA Nation's League campaign by securing a hard-fought 1-0 away win against Finland on Thursday night.
Kieffer Moore grabbed the winner for Giggs' side in the 80th minute after getting on the end of a low cross from Manchester United winger Daniel James, who produced a man of the match display in Helsinki.
Bale had a less productive night for his country, as he was taken off for Liverpool's Harry Wilson after a subdued first-half display.
The 31-year-old played just 48 minutes of Madrid's final 12 fixtures post-lockdown last season, and was visibly short on match fitness on the international stage.
Giggs insisted that it was always the plan for Bale to be withdrawn early during his post-match interview, while praising his team for coming through a difficult test on foreign soil.
"It was a gritty performance, not our usual flowing football but Finland made it difficult for us. It's the kind of game we can learn from," the legendary former United star told reporters.
"We take the plusses because we dug out a result and with a clean sheet we've always got a chance.
"Gareth Bale, it was planned for him to come off at half-time, he's had no football at all. He was always going to get 45 minutes."
Bale sparked fresh speculation over his future at Madrid earlier this week after revealing that the club blocked his proposed exit last summer, amid interest from the Chinese Super League and MLS.
A man who began his career at Tottenham before moving to Santiago Bernabeu in 2013 also opened the door to a potential return to the Premier League, telling Sky Sports: "We'll see what happens.
"It's in the club's hands and they make things very difficult to be honest. If those options arise, it's something I'd look at for sure."
Bale will be back in contention for a place in Giggs' starting line up when Wales play host to Bulgaria at the Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday, where the Dragons will be aiming to extend their recent unbeaten run to eight matches.