Football: Giggs answers his Welsh critics

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Wales will be able to unleash a fully-fit Ryan Giggs against Belgium in the World Cup qualifying match on Saturday - because of the rest Alex Ferguson gave him.

The Manchester United winger came in for severe criticism from some Wales supporters when he pulled out of last month's friendly against the Republic of Ireland, but Giggs insisted yesterday that he owes his current form and fitness to the fortnight's break he had either side of the Irish game.

"It's tough for Alex Ferguson because he's got to look after his players," said Giggs. "I had a little niggling hamstring before the Ireland game and he thought I needed a rest. It meant I had a full two weeks to recover from it and it did me good. The criticism I got for missing the game hurt, because, as I've said many times, I love playing for Wales."

The Welsh manager, Bobby Gould, is hoping Mark Hughes will overcome a groin strain and join Giggs in the line-up against the Belgians in a game that both sides badly need to win to boost their hopes of claiming second place behind the likely group winners, the Netherlands.

Hughes had a couple of days' treatment at Stamford Bridge before joining up with Wales and is ready to test the injury in training today. If Hughes is ruled out, Gould will perm two strikers from Dean Saunders, John Hartson and Nathan Blake.

Scotland have granted John Spencer permission to play for Queen's Park Rangers on Saturday. The manager, Craig Brown, announced the decision yesterday despite the fact he is expecting the Rangers pair, Ian Ferguson and Alan McLaren, to withdraw from the squad which faces Estonia at Kilmarnock at the weekend and Austria at Celtic Park next Wednesday. "It is not a dangerous precedent, it simply shows clubs that we are not inflexible," Brown said.