Gareth Bale’s best Wales moments ahead of 100th cap… as legend bids to fulfil World Cup destiny
ONE HUNDRED not out today — but Gareth Bale is still driven to tick off the final box of his bucket list by taking Wales to a World Cup.
Bale, who reaches a century of caps against Belarus, is aware of all the heartbreak the Dragons have suffered since 1958 in their quest to play at a global finals.
Gareth Bale is set to make his 100th cap for Wales against Belarus on Saturday[/caption]
He made his senior international debut aged 16 in a friendly win over Trinidad and Tobago in 2006[/caption]
Twice denied controversially by Scotland for the 1978 and 1986 tournaments, followed by Paul Bodin’s costly penalty miss against Romania to qualify for USA ’94.
Bale was injured and in the stands when James McClean’s goal sent the Republic of Ireland into a 2018 World Cup qualifying play-off at the expense of Wales.
For all Bale, 32, has achieved in an incredible career, the four Champions League titles with Real Madrid, two Euro final appearances with Wales as well as being his nation’s all-time record goal scorer, the pain of World Cup broken hearts remains.
Bale said: “The way you learn in football is by heartbreak and by things you haven’t achieved.
“We have had down moments like against Ireland, so hopefully we can lean on that experience and hurt to drive us on further.
“We have more know-how now but we’ll definitely be diving back into experience to try and help us.
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“Everyone knows the World Cup is special. From when I first came in, every player wanted to play in a World Cup. It’s that internal drive.”
To celebrate becoming the second man behind Chris Gunter to win 100 Wales caps, the skipper wants three points on his landmark night in Cardiff.
Robert Page’s side have already guaranteed a Qatar 2022 play-off away semi-final spot for Qatar in March thanks to their Nations League finish after Spain beat Greece 1-0 on Thursday.
But four points from Belarus and then Belgium on Tuesday night could hand Wales a home draw against favourable opposition.
Bale added: “I want three points because we need them. We need to perform and win the game so that would be the perfect present.
“To get 100 caps will be an incredible achievement and one you never think about when you start out. To be on the cusp is nice for me and my family.
“As soon as the whistle goes I’ll only be thinking about three points. It’s a must-win game for us.”
GARETH THE GREAT
Proud Welshman Bale summed up his international journey since his debut as a 16-year-old under John Toshack against Trinidad and Tobago in May 2006 as ‘incredible’.
His club success in Spain means he will not have any regrets when he eventually hangs up his boots.
Along the way, he has seen the high and lows.
A decade ago, Wales were ranked a lowly 117th in the world and then Bale and his team-mates had to overcome the tragic death of manager Gary Speed just as the Dragons showed signs of promise.
Chris Coleman took over and Bale was the symbol of Wales’ rise — and only grew in stature following his world record £85million move from Tottenham to Real Madrid in 2013.
There have been so many memories — the goals, the free-kicks, the run to the Euro 2016 semi-finals — but Bale has also loved just playing with his mates.
Bale beamed: “It has been an incredible journey which started a long time ago and it’s not over now. Coming away with Wales is a highlight of my year and season.
“I love being with the boys and staff and playing in front of our fans. It’s my country, it’s my place of birth, it’s where I’ve grown up.
It’s a special country to be a part of
“Wales has that extra special connection with the fans. We were all fans growing up, loved to go to watch Wales and wanted them to do well and win.
“I still feel like a little kid when I’m not playing.
“When a fan plays for your own national team you bring that passion with you. We love our country and playing for Wales.
“There’s such a special bond and it’s a special country to be a part of. I’m very proud and I’m honoured to be a Welshman.
“There’s been so many highlights, scoring on my 50th cap against Belgium, the header against Cyprus which was a pivotal moment in Euro 2016 qualification, goals at the Euros, getting to the semi-final, breaking the goalscoring record. Hopefully there’s still more ahead.”
It is little wonder Bale, who has not played in over two months after suffering a serious hamstring injury while training with Real, has been desperate to get fit for his country’s final two Group E qualifiers.
Bale added: “I’m not in peak condition. In terms of match fitness it’s not there as I have not played in two months.
“I worked as hard as ever to try to get back. All I can do is try my best like I always do and give 100 per cent.”
FIRST GAME – Trinidad and Tobago (May 2006)
GARETH BALE made an instant impression at international level when he became Wales’ youngest player at the age of 16 years and 315 days for this end-of-season friendly in Austria.
He set up Robert Earnshaw’s late winner in a 2-1 triumph at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium. You just knew then Bale would be back…
FIRST GOAL – Slovakia (October 2006)
SOUTHAMPTON ace Bale showed another glimpse of his class in this Euro 2008 qualifier in Cardiff with the first of his record 36 goals for Wales.
The left wing-back’s top corner free-kick was the only bright spot, though, as John Toshack’s side suffered a 5-1 loss at the Millennium Stadium.
TOP GOAL – Scotland (October 2012)
THIS was Bale in his prime during his final year at Tottenham before his world-record £85million move to Real Madrid.
At 1-1 and with two minutes of normal time left, Bale got the ball in midfield, raced at the Scottish spine and beat them for pace before burying a 25-yard left-footer into a top corner to prove Chris Coleman’s match-winner.
TOP FREE-KICK – Slovakia (June 2016)
THERE are a few candidates for this category — Andorra, Israel and England to name a few.
But the trademark strike on the big occasion in the Euro 2016 finals opener against Slovakia in Bordeaux just clinched it.
Bale’s wobbling left-footed set-piece wrong-footed keeper Matus Kozacik to kick-start that epic run to the semis.
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Bale grabbed his first goal in style against Slovakia in a Euro 2008 qualifier in Cardiff in 2006[/caption]
The forward was mobbed by team-mates after his last-gasp winner against Scotland in 2012[/caption]
Based in Johannesburg, Brian Derenberger is a Senior Editor at Healthy Organic Lifestyle.