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Bale on the brink of glory with Wales
The Welsh national team have a history of one-off legends: Ian Rush, Neville Southall, and Ryan Giggs to name a few. Now despite his youth, it is fair to add Gareth Bale to that list too. In Wales’ match against Israel today, Bale was unplayable in a 3-0 win, bagging two goals. Israel chased the Real Madrid star in circles, and even Wales fans could be caught up in the moment, marveling at yet another incredible free-kick or a burst of pace. Wales is in another golden generation — Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey got on the scoreboard, while Ashley Williams rooted The Dragons’ defense — but it was all too clear Bale was on another level.
He’s only twenty-five, but already in the echelons of Southall, Giggs, and Rush in terms of impact, if not yet longevity. After assisting a winner on his international debut at the age of just sixteen, he was only months late of becoming Wales’ youngest debutant. In 2007, he became Wales’ youngest goalscorer and one of the lone bright spots in a 5-1 loss to Slovakia. He is rapidly ascending the list of Wales’ most capped players, as well, and is carving up Wales’ all-time records as he does La Liga defenses.
Yet Wales’ legends have always fallen short in one respect: single-handedly guiding their nation to a major tournament. The 1958 World Cup was Wales’ single major tournament appearance — even when Mark Hughes, Southall, and Rush were on the same team they simply couldn’t deliver the results necessary. Bale not only has a chance to make history, but go one step further than any Welsh player has before. He can bury Wales’ past shortcomings and what-ifs — rendered over the decades into almost a curse — in the history books and become a the legend instead of one of many.
Of course, it won’t be only Bale’s weight to carry on the road to Euro 2016. Ramsey and Williams also stand out, as do a host of other Welsh Premier League players; indeed, this new well-rounded feel may be the key to qualification. Wales currently sit top of Qualifying Group B after impressive performances against second and third placed Belgium and Israel, although Chris Coleman’s men needn’t finish ahead of either to still retain hope of qualification. The new twenty-four team Euro format will be cited if Wales do qualify, but they’re currently on track not even to require the extra spots.
But fifty years from now, few will remember anyone but Bale if Wales qualify. It’s a team effort, but one rewarding Bale with individual distinction and glory. It matters not if Wales pose poorly at the tournament — they simply have to get there.
Photo credit: Jon Candy on Flickr