Fifa World Cup 2022 European qualifying playoff, first leg
Wales v Austria
Cardiff City Stadium, 7.45pm
Live on Virgin Media Two and Sky Sports Main Event
Gareth Bale has said he is ready to play for as long as required when Wales host Austria hoping to secure a World Cup play-off final berth, despite playing only 77 minutes since November.
Carlo Ancelotti, the Real Madrid manager, said Bale missed the clásico on Sunday because he was unwell, but reports in Spain suggested he had a back injury and the Wales captain, while refusing to divulge the reason behind his omission, said he was capable of lasting the distance in Cardiff on Thursday.
“I’m in very good shape, a lot better shape than the last camp when I’d been out for about three months,” Bale said. “I’ve been training the last couple of days ready to play whatever is necessary tomorrow and we’ll give it everything we can. For sure it will be one of the biggest games I’ve played in. Qualifying for a World Cup is something I want to achieve, for the fans, for the country.”
Bale said Wales had practised penalties in case the game goes beyond extra time, and the 32-year-old is determined to help his country to a first World Cup since 1958. He said he had parked thoughts about his future to focus on the occasion. The forward is out of contract this summer and has previously played down suggestions that this could be his final season.
“I haven’t thought about anything other than this game or planned for anything after yet,” he said. “I want to completely focus on this . . . I’m not thinking about my future as I need to concentrate on now and the future is a distraction.”
Bale is poised to face his clubmate David Alaba, who is likely to captain an Austria team ranked 30th in the world. "We know it's big game for both countries, so I've stayed away from him in training," Bale joked.
“He’s a top guy, I get on with him really well and he’s played well this season. I’m looking forward to seeing him tomorrow . . . we’ll have a nice handshake before and after. We’ve spoken a bit about the game but I’ve avoided him in training so he doesn’t kick me. We’ve had friendly banter.”
The Spanish daily Marca insinuated Bale made himself unavailable for club duty before joining Wales. Asked to clarify what the Wales interim manager, Robert Page, described as a "niggle", Bale replied: "No, I don't need to clarify it because I don't need to tell anyone what was up. I don't need to give anyone anything to use against me. Everything is fine now."