Coleman says Bale primed for Wales return
Gareth Bale takes his first step on the road to World Cup qualification with Wales against Moldova on Monday and manager Chris Coleman believes he is still getting better.
Bale, 27, scored three times as Wales created a sensation by reaching the semi-finals at Euro 2016, matching the best performance by a British team in an overseas tournament.
The challenge now facing him is to build on that momentum by firing Wales to the 2018 World Cup in Russia and Coleman says the Real Madrid flier is hungry to make more history.
“Gareth scored inside 75 seconds of Real’s first game of the season (against Real Sociedad), but I never get surprised by him,” Coleman said ahead of the Group D opener at Cardiff City Stadium.
“I know he’s capable of almost anything and I think Madrid are very excited about the future with Balo.
“They recognise that they’ve got someone who’s going to be there for a while and someone who is capable of winning everything.
“He’s getting better and better still. Along with that incredible ability, he’s got that first-class mentality as well.
“It’s a winning formula for Real Madrid and for Wales, and I think he will have another good season.”
Wales were among the fourth seeds in qualifying for Euro 2016, but their exploits in France catapulted them into Pot One for the World Cup qualifying draw.
In an evenly balanced group, they are likely to face strong challenges for the one automatic qualifying berth from Austria, Serbia and the Republic of Ireland. Georgia complete the pool.
While Bale is fit and firing, Wales will be without Aaron Ramsey against Moldova — as they were when they lost to eventual champions Portugal in the Euro semi-finals.
The Arsenal midfielder has a hamstring injury.
Attacking midfielder Jonathan Williams, who recently joined Ipswich Town on loan from Crystal Palace, is also out.
Goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey is expected to start despite missing Palace’s 1-1 draw with Bournemouth last weekend due to a leg problem.
– ‘Create something new’ –
Prior to the Euros, Wales had not competed at a major tournament finals since the 1958 World Cup and their exploits electrified the nation.
Cardiff City Stadium will be packed to the rafters for the team’s return to action, but Coleman has warned that his side’s achievements in France will count for nothing in the new campaign.
“When I got home, for the two weeks after it I think my wife was expecting me to be a certain way, and I was not,” said Coleman, whose side are unbeaten in six competitive home games.
“I was on a bit of a downer. The situation is so exciting. It is exhausting, but you have all that emotion.
“But when it finishes, you don’t get weaned off it. It is over and you are back into reality as fathers and husbands.
“It was really hard and I know a lot of the lads (found it hard), too. You miss that buzz.
“You feel like you need a rest when it is going on, but once it finishes, you pine for it.
“It was so special, but it is gone, that moment is finished. We have to create something new.”
An independent nation since 1991, Moldova have never qualified for a major championship and have only won one of their last 21 games.
They finished rock bottom of their Euro 2016 qualifying group after losing eight and drawing two of their 10 matches.
The teams have only played each other twice, in qualifying for Euro 96, when they won one game apiece.
Late former Wales manager Gary Speed, Coleman’s predecessor, scored the only goal when the teams met in Cardiff, with Coleman also playing.
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