Euro 2016 Qualifier: Bale's time is now

Euro 2016 Qualifier: Bale's time is now

BELGIUM v WALES

(Monday, 1am)

Will Gareth Bale ever play in a major tournament or is he, like Ryan Giggs before him, doomed to miss out every time?

He may never have a better chance than this.

For all the fears that Uefa's sweeping changes to the European Championships had only made it easier for the continent's elite, there has been an unexpected side effect.

The teams that never used to qualify, the detritus that swirled between third and sixth place, have suddenly been energised.

In contrast, the favourites have got sloppy. For the first time in 12 years, Wales have a real chance.

There were fears over Bale as well.

Fears that a move to Real Madrid might be too much for him.

There are intelligent, worldly footballers out there, but Bale was never one of them.

A nice, simple boy who loved his family and his home, there were concerns that a move abroad could be dangerous.

Not so. Bale settled almost instantly, scoring 22 goals in his first season, one of them the crucial second goal in Real's Champions League triumph.

Now he just has to make his name on the international stage, but that won't prove easy with Wales.

The Welsh have only ever qualified for one major tournament, the World Cup in 1958.

They did reach the "quarter-finals" of the European Championships in 1976, but in those days Uefa insisted that the tournament only began at the semi-final stage and everything that preceded it was a qualifying round.

DISAPPOINTMENT

Since then, there have been several near misses and a lot of disappointment.

Goal difference cost them places in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups and a Paul Bodin missed penalty cost them a place in the USA in 1994.

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