By Graham Thomas in Doha
Gareth Bale believes in miracles and why shouldn’t he?
This is a footballer who was once considered a cursed left back with Tottenham Hotspur who went on to win five Champions League titles as lethal attacker with Real Madrid.
From a defender who always seemed to lose with Spurs, to a striker who won everything with the biggest club in the world.
So, when the Wales captain says something unlikely is possible, it’s worth hearing him out – even if it’s something as seemingly implausible as Wales making the knockout stages of the World Cup.
Bale and Wales cannot do anything about the outcome of the other Group B game on Tuesday between the USA and Iran, which they must hope finishes as a draw.
But in a tournament already rich in surprises, Bale feels a first victory over England for 38 years is a possibility.
Even then, unless England are beaten by a four-goal margin, Wales need Iran and the United States to draw their final match to make the round of 16 in Qatar.
To stay in the #FIFAWorldCup, Wales needs two things to happen…
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It is a tall order for a Wales side who have won only once in their last 10 games.
But Bale says they can draw on respective underdog victories for Japan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia over Germany, Belgium and Argentina at the 2022 World Cup.
“There’s been a few shocks in the tournament already and there’s no reason why we can’t do the same,” the 33-year-old said.
“Everyone has weaknesses. We’ve done our homework and had meetings, and I’m sure they’ve done the same with us.
“We know how difficult it will be. England are a very good team, They’re one of the favourites to win the tournament.
“We are under no illusions it will be hard, we’re going to give everything like we always do.”
Wales have performed poorly at their first World Cup for 64 years.
Gareth Bale was asked at his pre-match press conference whether the England game could be his last for Wales.
One word answer – “No”
— Phil Blanche (@philblanche) November 28, 2022
An improved second-half showing against the United States – when Bale won and converted a late penalty – earned them a fortunate 1-1 draw.
But Friday’s 2-0 defeat to Iran, when Wales were second-best throughout, has led to plenty of navel gazing and external criticism from supporters.
Bale said: “We were hurting after the game and the day after we were a bit quiet. But we have characters in the team, who got everyone going.
“Training has been good in the last few days. We’re in good spirits, we were disappointed with the result against Iran but we have a big game to go.
“We can’t dwell on it too much. This is tournament football, we have to get over it quickly and go again.
“We’re disappointed in the results and the performances. But that’s football, it’s not easy, it’s a World Cup.
That moment when @GarethBale11 scored Wales’ first World Cup goal in 64 years 🏴 #Qatar2022 pic.twitter.com/l5ZKlTUuop
— Road to 2022 (@roadto2022en) November 21, 2022
“We’ll always give 100 per cent. We’ve been working hard the last few days to correct things and hopefully things will turn around for us.”
Bale, Wales’ record scorer and his country’s talisman for over a decade, said he does not feel responsibility to deliver “because we are a team”.
But fans have questioned the World Cup contribution of Bale and Aaron Ramsey, Wales’ other star player, with some even suggesting that the pair should be dropped against England.
Manager Robert Page, who will hand Danny Ward the goalkeeping gloves with Wayne Hennessey suspended, said: “It’s a big ask for anybody in this environment to go four days later.
“I’m going to pick a team that I think can go out and compete against England, whether that’s with or without them (Bale and Ramsey).
“If they don’t start, can they can make an impact? That’s always been my dilemma playing games in quick succession.
“If they start one game, can they start the next? My thought process won’t be any different.
“Whether they come on and have an impact or start and last an hour or 90 minutes, they are talented footballers.
“We’re all getting criticism now and rightly so because results aren’t going our way.
Together Stronger: Join us at the iconic Wales bucket hat for a fan get-together with Laura McAllister and Minister for Economy Vaughan Gething
Ahead of Cymru v England tomorrow we are inviting supporter groups which represent the wide diversity of our nation to the iconic pic.twitter.com/fu6mrt3pf3
— Fan Embassy Wales (@WeAreFSACymru) November 28, 2022
“We’re big enough to take it – it’s not a problem. We put our big boy pants on and get on with it.”
Bale and Ramsey may have failed to hit the heights so far in this tournament, but England manager Gareth Southgate is wary of writing off their threat, in public at least.
When his England press conference followed Page’s, Southgate insisted of Wales, “They have some world class players who can produce moments of brilliance and have done for a long time with their clubs and their country.
“They have a good spirit and organisation. We know the quality of the Ukraine team they beat to get to these finals.
“They seem to have additional motivation to play England from what they’re saying. We’ve got to be prepared for all of those things. But we’ve got to focus on our own performance and that’s the key.
“They’re a proud team with some very good players. We would have always expected them to play well. We’re preparing for them in the same way we’ve prepared for the previous opponents.
🗣️ “I’m not really sure, we went over to our fans and they were really good.”
Gareth Southgate says he doesn’t understand where the boos came from against the USA as when they went over at the end of the match they were great towards the team.#FIFAWorldCup pic.twitter.com/OtPHP0B9Mx
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) November 28, 2022
“We’ll have to see what formation they play. There’s different possibilities for what they’ve done so far in the tournament. We’re expecting to play a team that will give everything for the shirt.”
Asked specifically about the threat of Bale, Southgate added: “Defending against him depends on which role he plays.
“He’s capable of those individual moments of brilliance. He’s having a fantastic career. It’s difficult to say where you pitch that because I haven’t followed it as closely as the Welsh public.
“Clearly his club career and what he won with Real Madrid is phenomenal really. The success they (Wales) had in 2016, a fantastic run to the semi-finals, he’s had some remarkable experiences and he’s an outstanding player.”