Tuesday, 29 November, 2022
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Bale shrugs off fitness fears ahead of Wales World Cup return

Bale shrugs off fitness fears ahead of Wales World Cup return

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Inactivity in club football has rarely prevented Gareth Bale from flourishing at international level and Wales fans will desperately be hoping that remains true at the World Cup.

The 33-year-old Welsh talisman has been the driving force behind his country's renaissance over the past decade, which has included qualification for two European Championships and now a first World Cup appearance since 1958.

Much of that success was achieved while Bale was struggling to cement his place among Real Madrid's "Galacticos", increasingly pushed to the margins as an unloved and under-used squad player.

So when Los Angeles FC swooped for the five-time Champions League winner in June, it seemed like a match made in heaven.

Los Angeles would get a proven match-winner to deliver impetus and experience as they chased a maiden Major League Soccer crown.

Bale meanwhile would get the chance to play regular football, honing his match sharpness in order to arrive in Qatar in peak condition.

To say it has not quite worked out like that is an understatement.

While Los Angeles have marched impressively into Saturday's MLS Cup final championship game, they have done so largely without Bale.

Since arriving in the US in July, Bale has started in just two games, while making 10 appearances as a substitute.

In the post-season, a leg injury meant Bale played no part in LAFC's wins over the Los Angeles Galaxy and Austin.

If, as seems likely, Bale fails to get game time against the Philadelphia Union in this weekend's MLS Cup, it will mean that the Welsh captain has not kicked a ball in anger in nearly two months when he lines up against the United States in Wales' Group B opener on November 21.

- Big game temperament -

Wales manager Rob Page insists he is unconcerned by Bale's latest spell on the sidelines.

"He's fine," Page told Sky Sports in a recent interview. "I've had conversations with him and he's okay. He's fine. He's at the age now where he has to manage his body.

"He's got that experience to help him understand his body and how to get him in the best place possible for us."

Los Angeles FC's management is also standing staunchly behind the Welshman, while acknowledging that some "hiccups" have prevented him from making a full-throated start to his career in MLS.

"We looked at Gareth as a player who we thought we could get up to speed and healthy and contributing -- and I do want to highlight that he did," Los Angeles general manager John Thorrington told ESPN.

"He helped win us a number of games when he could come in and play. It's just been unfortunate that he had a couple of hiccups physically that have precluded him from playing a larger role.

"He works incredibly hard, he is a top professional and when he is healthy and able to contribute, we've seen what he can do in this league and we're hopeful that that will continue."

Bale meanwhile can point to an extensive catalogue of examples where his knack of rising to the big occasion has eclipsed his supposed lack of match sharpness.

Nowhere was that more evident than during Wales' crucial World Cup qualification play-off against Austria in March.

Prior to that game, Bale had barely played at all for Real Madrid since the turn of the year, making just one start and two fleeting appearances as a substitute for Carlo Ancelotti's team.

Yet with Wales' World Cup hopes on the line against Austria on March 24, Bale once again came up big, scoring two superb goals in a 2-1 victory before leaving the field to a standing ovation.

Bale was similarly pivotal in helping Wales seal their first World Cup qualification in 64 years during June's play-off final win over Ukraine, despite having hardly played in the build-up due to a back problem.

"It was difficult," Bale said after that game.

"I haven't played too much football these last three or four weeks because of my back spasm, but the most important thing was to get through.

"I give my all. I was running on empty."