Gareth Bale says all of his “attention and focus” is on Wales’ World Cup play-off semi-final against Austria on Thursday, live on Sky Sports, and past experience can help his side.
Wales are aiming to reach their first World Cup finals since 1958, having featured at the last two European Championships, but must first get through two play-off games.
Bale says he and his team-mates are not looking any further than this week’s fixture in Cardiff, although they would face a few months wait before the play-off semi-final.
The winner of the Wales vs Austria semi-final will face the winner of Scotland vs Ukraine, a game that has been postponed due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That fixture will now be played in June, with the play-off final to follow in the same month.
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Speaking about Thursday’s crucial play-off, Bale exclusively told Sky Sports News’ Geraint Hughes: “We really aren’t concerned with anything else other than tomorrow night’s game – the sole focus is on that.
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Gareth Bale says it is natural to feel nerves ahead of an important game such as Wales’ World Cup playoff semi-final against Austria. How to follow Wales vs Austria on Sky Sports
Watch Wales vs Austria on Sky Sports Football and Main Event from 7pm on Thursday; kick-off 7.45pm. Follow our live blog from Cardiff on the Sky Sports website and app; free match highlights will be published shortly after full time.
“That’s what’s required, not to go wandering off with our minds and thinking about the future. We know it’s going to be a difficult game tomorrow and one we’re looking forward to.
“I’m solely focused on this game, this qualification. There’s still a lot to play for and I’m not thinking about anything else at the moment. This requires all my attention and all my focus, all my preparation over the last few months. I’m not thinking about anything else but the game and after that, we’ll go from there.
“I’m a fan, even though I’m playing. I want to see Wales at a World Cup, whether I’m playing or not. It’s a massively important game, but we also have the experience to lean on with important games and this is another one of them. Hopefully we can all perform and get a result.”
The Wales squad, including Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, trained ahead of their World Cup playoff semi-final against Austria
Euro 2016 proved to be a watershed moment for Wales as they featured at their first major tournament in 58 years. They have since qualified for another Euros, but the road to the World Cup continues to prove difficult.
Wales now have a group of players with plenty of big-match experience, both at club and country level. There is Bale and Aaron Ramsey, but younger players like Neco Williams, Harry Wilson and Dan James continue to feature at the highest levels.
“Experience is going to help,” Bale added. “Having that big-game experience, handling the nerves, handling the pressure is always a good thing that you can go back into the memory banks and lean on a bit.
Former Austrian international Marko Stankovic says Gareth Bale is still the key man for Wales, despite the Welshman’s limited game time with club Real Madrid
“It’s something we all have now I guess and we can use that to our advantage. Having some more experienced players in the team can help the younger ones as well. Now it’s all about preparing for the game and handling the situation tomorrow as best we can, giving 100 per cent and having no regrets.”
Thursday’s game could go all the way to extra time and penalties. But is Bale, who has recently struggled with injuries, ready for possible 120-minute match and beyond?
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“Of course. No matter what, I’ll do as much as I can to play 120 mins if I’m required to do it, I’ll give it 100 per cent as I always do.
“You can practise technique and stuff, but the pressure when it comes down to penalties is totally different.
Ahead of the 2022 World Cup play-off semi-final between Wales and Austria, Robert Earnshaw believes The Dragons will never have a better chance of World Cup qualification
“Players have had experience in penalty shootouts in cup competitions and big games, so all we can do is draw one experience again and what we’ve been through in the past, but also stay in the moment and embrace the pressure.
“No one will ever be upset at anyone for missing a penalty because it can happen, but all we can try and do is score as many as we can.
“For me, it’s worse if I didn’t take the penalty. I would always put myself up and you have to be in a positive mindset. I don’t care if I go one or five – or two, three or four – as long as I score my penalty and do my job for the team, that’s the most important thing.”
Thursday 24th March 7:00pm Kick off 7:45pm
At the age of 32, some may wonder if Bale has another qualifying campaign in his tank, but unsurprisingly, the Wales captain is not considering retirement just yet.
“There’s no point [thinking about retirement], there are things that are going on now so I don’t need to. I’ve got things planned for the future and whenever that may be, it’ll happen. But at this current moment, I’m not thinking further than Thursday’s game.”
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Wales’ pair of Lamborghinis – Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey – have been left parked in the garage. Will their engines roar when unleashed in Cardiff? With the help of former Wales star Joe Ledley, Lewis Jones analyses whether a lack of game-time will have an effect on Bale and Ramsey’s performance?
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