The Gareth Bale fear factor facing Scotland – or Ukraine – as Wales talisman fires nation into World Cup play-off final


Of course, this is an outcome on which so much remains in the realms of the unknown. The war being waged by Russia on a Ukraine that should have been taking to the Hampden pitch for the semi-final as the Welsh triumphed 2-1 over Austria in their such assignment prevents the rush to any conclusions about what might lie ahead. Except one.

What should scare whoever is ranged against Wales, whenever that final is able to be staged, is that it wasn’t just the stars that appeared aligned for the Celtic nation as they sought to end a 64-year wait for a World Cup finals appearance in an emotion-drenched Cardiff City Stadium. It was the incadence of their supernova, who takes the form of the inspirational, indefatigable, simply incredible Gareth Bale, that fizzed them within one game of a seemingly never-ending quest. In utterly extraordinary fashion.

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That the attacker with magic in his boots, who now sees these leaden in Spain as he has become largely a spectator for his club Real Madrid, should be able to produce two wand-like finishes provided the ultimate in comic-book stuff. Bale had played the sum total of 119 minutes of competitive football in the seven months previous to the semi-final – 74 of these in one Madrid outing a month ago. In the early stages, he looked blowing and off the space..only then to blow up a whirlwind throughout the arena with a glorious set-piece for the opener 25 minutes in. Stepping back and to the side, like a rugby union kicker eyeing up a conversion for an award to the right of the box, he crafted a contact that seemed to defy geometry as it dipped and swerved to find a sweet spot that hardly seemed to exist , the ball flying in top right hand corner of Heinz Linder’s net and almost brushing a layer of paint off the upright as he did so.

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Gareth Bale celebrates after leading Wales to a 2-1 victory in the World Cup play-off semi-final against Austria. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

His second, to make it 2-0 in the 52nd minute and bag him his 38th goal in 101 appearances for his beloved country, came when the ball broke to him 14 yards out when he was half-turned, and didn’t appear to have any realistic shooting opportunity. With sleight of body and feet, he conjured one up, to absolutely hammer an angled drive beyond the despairing outstretched hand of Linder.

Bale’s herculean endeavors proved just enough, with nervy moments following Ben Davies sticking out a boot to block Marcel Sabitzer’s shot and ending up taking it away from keeper Wayne Henessey that gave Austria a 64th minute lifeline. But Bale couldn’t be denied, in what the 32-year-old has hinted might be his last campaign for a Wales – in tandem with Aaron Ramsey – he drove to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and then beyond the group stages of the subsequent Euros last year.

Bale is an irresistible force that must be met with an immovable Scotland or Ukraine in a final that will be staged in Wales. Precedent suggests that challenge will be a mountain for any visitors, on a par with Snowdonia’s peaks. For the success of Robert Page’s team means the Welsh are now unbeaten at home in 17 games. The Bale factor is huge in the statistic, huge in making him the finest footballer to wear the Welsh dragon on his chest, the forward tugging on that badge and pulling it towards the television cameras as he lost himself in the elation that followed each of his wonderful finishes. A message to Madrid employers that have ostracised him, he didn’t deny afterwards. But his message from him will hardly have gone unnoticed in these parts either. How could it be, when written so large it go global.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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