Gareth Bale has set his sights on leading Wales to the World Cup for the first time in 64 years after declaring himself fit for the play-off semi-final against Austria.
Bale missed Real Madrid’s defeat against Barcelona on Sunday with a minor niggle, but the Wales captain is ready to face Austria in Cardiff on Thursday.
Wales captain Bale has won four Champions League titles during his time at Real and led his country to the knockout stages at each of the last two European Championships
But the 32-year-old forward has never sampled the unique atmosphere of a World Cup, while his country haven’t qualified for the tournament since 1958.
“For sure it will be one of biggest games I’ve played in,” Bale told reporters on Wednesday.
“Qualifying for a World Cup is something I want to achieve for the fans, the country. It’s definitely a massive game, we all want to do well.
“I remember (growing up) loving watching the tournament. Brazilian Ronaldo, Samba football, they were probably my first memories.
“It’s a dream come true for everyone to play in a World Cup. To do it for Wales would be an incredible achievement. It’s been a long time.”
Wales or Austria will play the winners of the other Path A semi-final between Scotland and Ukraine to decide a place at the World Cup in Qatar later this year.
The other semi-final been delayed until June because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Asked if it would be a huge blow never to play in a World Cup, former Tottenham star Bale said: “I wouldn’t say it’d be a regret if I didn’t play in a World Cup, but it’s something I would love to achieve, for myself, my country, the fans of Wales.
“It will only be a regret if we don’t give 100 per cent; don’t leave anything in the tank.
“Once you’ve done that there won’t be regrets regardless of the result. Hopefully our best will be enough.”
Wales are unbeaten in 11 competitive fixtures at the Cardiff City Stadium, a run stretching back to 2018, and Bale is confident they can use the sell-out home crowd to their advantage again.
“It’s a big advantage being in front of our own fans. They know how important they are, they really are the 12th man and will push us through to the finish line for sure,” he said.
“The fans inspire us and push us on. It’s difficult to say why our record’s so good, but hopefully we can continue that.”
Austria last played in a World Cup in 1998 and their star defender David Alaba has warned his team that Bale is capable of ruining their qualification hopes on his own.
Alaba has been Bale’s team-mate at Real since last year and has a good relationship with Wales’ talisman.
“Gareth is a really super-cool person outside the pitch, and great on the pitch as well,” Alaba said.
“We have a very good relationship, we talk a lot and we’ve joked about this game.
“Gareth can decide games himself and he’s not always easy to be stopped, but we want to focus on ourselves and our own game.”
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