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    Is Gareth Bale the key to powering Wales to Russia 2018?


    Is Gareth Bale the key to powering Wales to Russia 2018?
    Gareth Bale is undoubtedly the star man in the Wales national squad, but during Euro 2016, the Dragons proved they are far from a one-man team.

    Despite being on the receiving end of such criticism before and during the tournament, Bale didn't score in the 3-1 victory over then-top-ranked Belgium as they made their way into the semi-final of a major tournament for the first time ever. However, it's clear that Bale played a vital role in their success.

    With this in mind, does the weight of ensuring qualification for World Cup 2018 lie on Bale's shoulders?

    The role of Chris Coleman and others
    Against Belgium, Coleman pushed Bale as high up the pitch as possible to help expose gaps that opposing left-back, Jan Vertonghen, tends to leave when pushing forward in his more adventurous (read 'careless') moments. But the Belgian understood the threat and stayed further back to protect his team against Bale – a great sign of the Welshman's importance.

    But Wales' tactics involve much more than packing the defence and hoofing the ball up to their one-and-only world-class player, Bale.

    National coach, Chris Coleman, is also astute tactically, and often varies formations from game to game.

    A prime example of this came during the Euro 2016 qualifier away against Israel, when the Wales manager used Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey and Bale in joint-number-10 positions, while Hal Robson-Kanu had the job of creating space for the two hit men. This worked a treat as the two Premier League forwards' goals took Wales to a 3-0 victory at Haifa International Stadium.

    National team captain, Ashley Williams, is also a very important part of the team. Williams' no-nonsense attitude and hard-work ethic has been a strong driving force for the team. While reportedly a quiet man, the defender is someone whose few words carry real weight. So when he speaks, others listen. Williams is also often a rock in the heart of defence.

    Not quite going to plan…
    Fast-forward to the World Cup 2018 qualifiers and Wales' hopes of reaching a second-successive tournament are still alive – but only just. It started well with a 4-0 victory over Moldova in Cardiff. Yet one draw against the Republic of Ireland (2-2) and two 1-1 draws against Serbia has left Wales third in Group D with four games still to play.  

    This means that in many ways, qualification is out of the Dragons' hands; they may still not qualify even if they win the next four games. But the group features none of football's great teams, which works well in Wales' favour.

    As shown by the draws with the two teams in first and second place (Serbia and the Republic of Ireland). It would therefore be foolish to ignore the predictions on Bethut and rule Wales out completely, as their squad is as good as any in the group.

    But we should also be careful not to understate Bale's importance to Wales' qualification hopes. While his three goals (in qualifying so far) aren't enough to make him top scorer in the group, the fact is that the Real Madrid forward has played a role in more than half of Wales' goals since they started their Euro 2016 campaign back in September 2014.

    For Wales, Bale is a player that comes on the scene once in a generation, so if anyone can fire them to the World Cup – it's him.

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    Posted: Friday 18th August 2017
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