Gareth Bale hoping to get back on track in Dublin

The Welsh forward has only made five appearances for Real Madrid since November

Gareth Bale is hoping to put months of frustration in Madrid behind him when Wales take on Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Carlo Hermann/Getty Images

Gareth Bale is hoping to put months of frustration in Madrid behind him when Wales take on Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Carlo Hermann/Getty Images

 

Gareth Bale is set to extend his proud international record as Wales boss Chris Coleman considers a World Cup call-up for Liverpool’s rising star Ben Woodburn.

Real Madrid forward Bale has had a miserable few months in Spain with injury and suspension restricting him to only five appearances since the end of November.

But he has not missed a competitive international for nearly three-and-a-half years, and is raring to go as Wales seek to back up reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2016 last summer by qualifying for a first World Cup since 1958.

Coleman names his squad for next week’s crunch 2018 World Cup qualifier with the Republic of Ireland in Dublin on Thursday morning.

The Republic lead the way in Group D with a two-point lead over Serbia and a four-point advantage over third-placed Wales.

But Bale — who has played 20 consecutive competitive Wales games since missing the 1-1 draw away to Belgium in October 2013 — said: “We always said we didn’t just want to qualify for one tournament.

“Hopefully it (Euro 2016) is a legacy we can keep qualifying for major tournaments.

“We know it’s going to be very difficult, we’ve set the standard high and we need to strive to continue to push it higher.”

Wales were left sweating over Bale’s fitness after he underwent ankle surgery following Real’s Champions League tie against Sporting Lisbon on November 22.

But the 27-year-old returned ahead of schedule on February 18, only to have his season interrupted by the second red card of his career against Las Palmas.

Bale has completed his two-match LaLiga ban ahead of Real’s trip to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, and then it is on to Wales’ sell-out March 24 clash at the Aviva Stadium.

“We’re still in a good position to qualify,” Bale told the BBC’s Football Focus programme.

“We’re not too far off the leaders and we’ve got to play them next.

“It’s still all to play for, it’s very exciting times, and hopefully we can produce the same run as we did in the qualifiers in the Euros.”

Bale, who is two short of equalling Ian Rush’s 28-goal Wales record, could be joined in Dublin by Liverpool teenager Woodburn.

Wales assistant manager Osian Roberts has admitted Woodburn — who became Liverpool’s youngest goalscorer at the age of 17 years and 45 days when he netted in the EFL Cup victory against Leeds in November — is “knocking on the door”.

But Chester-born Woodburn, who has been involved in the Wales set-up since the age of 13, is also eligible to represent England.

Wales hope to convince Woodburn that his international future lies with them, and Coleman believes he has the temperament to make the step to the senior squad now.

As well as Bale, Coleman has been boosted by midfielder Aaron Ramsey starting Arsenal’s last two games after a calf problem.

Danny Ward, the Liverpool goalkeeper on loan at Huddersfield and Wayne Hennessey’s usual understudy, has also recovered from a leg injury.

Chris Maxwell’s fine form in Preston’s Sky Bet Championship play-off push has put pressure on Owain Fon Williams’ role as the number three goalkeeper.

On-loan Ipswich midfielder Jonathan Williams has stepped up his recovery from a long-term shoulder problem, but striker Simon Church is set to miss out following hip surgery.

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