By Paul Jones
Gareth Bale ruled out any injury fears as his 100th appearance for Wales in their 5-1 World Cup qualifying victory over Belarus ended after 45 minutes.
Neco Williams Ben Davies and Connor Roberts added to an Aaron Ramsey brace as Wales made light work of Belarus in Cardiff to move above the Czech Republic into second place.
Wales are already guaranteed a World Cup play-off place through their Nations League results last year.
A positive result in their final qualifier at home to Belgium on Tuesday could secure home advantage in a play-off semi-final in March.
Bale appeared confident of lining up against Belgium, who clinched top spot by beating Estonia 3-1 on Saturday, in Cardiff despite his landmark appearance being cut short.
The Real Madrid forward was making his first appearance since September 8 following a hamstring tear.
“It was always the plan to play 45,” Bale told Sky Sports after becoming the second Welshman to win 100 caps.
“I’ve obviously been out for two months and it was always planned that if we were up in the game, I would come off and try to get ready for Tuesday and see how I feel.
“I was happy to get the reception before the game and enjoy the occasion.
— Gareth Bale (@GarethBale11) November 13, 2021
“As much as I would have loved to have come off to an ovation, it would have been a bit greedy. The team is the most important thing.
“I’m happy to be back. It was a hard road to come back from injury and it was well worth it.”
Ramsey fired Wales ahead inside two minutes and Williams doubled the lead before the midway point of the first half following a second goalkeeping error from Sergei Chernik.
With Bale off, Ramsey took over the armband and penalty-taking duties and scored the third from the spot five minutes into the second period.
Defender Davies, with his first goal for Wales on his 68th appearance, and Roberts scored either side of a consolation from Belarus substitute Artem Kontsevoi.
Bale said: “From the first whistle we knew we had to be on it as it could come down to goal difference. It was a great performance tonight and we’re delighted.
“We were just focused on this game first but it is a big game now on Tuesday. We recover now and get ready for that, the big one.”
Ramsey’s double took him on to 20 for Wales, past Craig Bellamy and into sixth place on the all-time scoring list.
“We did what we wanted to do,” said Juventus midfielder Ramsey.
1-5: the scoreline of Bale’s first goal for Wales against Slovakia.
5-1: the scoreline of Bale’s 100th cap for Wales against Belarus.
Hard to imagine a more visible representation of Wales’ evolution with Gareth Bale at the helm.
— Megan Feringa (@megan_feringa) November 13, 2021
“We wanted to be on the front foot early in the game and we managed to do that. We will now take that into Tuesday which will be a massive game.
“We’re just excited that we’re in a position now to finish second. We’ve had some great battles with Belgium over the years and hopefully we can have another one on Tuesday.”
Caretaker manager Page believes his side have what it takes against Belgium to seal second place in the group.
“It sets up really nicely for Tuesday,” he said.
“The world’s best team are coming to Cardiff, it’ll be rocking again and we’ll be ready to go.
“We don’t want to limp across the line, we want to get that second spot.”
Page insists he is “fully committed” to leading Wales amid uncertainty over who will take charge of their World Cup play-off tie in March.
Former captain Page has guided Wales into the play-offs in the continued absence of manager Ryan Giggs, who has been on leave from his post for 12 months.
Giggs faces trial in January accused of deliberately headbutting his ex-girlfriend and controlling her throughout their relationship. The former Manchester United and Wales star denies all the allegations.
“He’s sneaked it in!” 👻
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) November 13, 2021
Page was heavily linked with the Cardiff job before the Bluebirds announced on Friday that interim manager Steve Morison would remain in charge for the rest of the season.
On the Cardiff interest, Page – who leads Wales into their final two World Cup qualifiers against Belarus and Belgium this week – said: “I’ve got the best job in the world. That’s all I’ve got to say to that. I’m working with wonderful players and my full focus is on these two games.
“I just take every game as it comes. I have been told I am in charge and, until someone tells me otherwise, I will be fully committed to this job. I absolutely love it. That’s all I can say on the matter.”
Spain’s 1-0 win in Greece on Thursday confirmed Wales’ play-off place as a result of their Nations League results.
It is only the second time Wales have reached a World Cup play-off, having beaten Israel 4-0 on aggregate to reach the 1958 finals in Sweden.