Best chance for Bale and Wales to qualify
BELGIUM v WALES
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.
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.
Mark Hughes took them to a play-off clash with Russia for Euro 2004, but again the Welsh were fated to miss out.
There has been a revival of late though, and hopes are growing that this may be the year the Welsh finally change their stars.
Gary Speed's fresh ideas were the catalyst, and under his stewardship Wales were the biggest movers in the 2011 Fifa rankings. They are now No. 34 in the world.
Tragically, Speed would take his own life at the end of the year.
After a wobbly start, admittedly in a stunningly difficult qualifying group, replacement manager Chris Coleman began to find some form.
With single-goal victories over Andorra and Cyprus, allied to a draw with Bosnia-Herzegovina, he now finds himself at the top of the table.
But while Bale was able to drive his team to success, most notably against Andorra where his two late goals averted disaster, he'll find Belgium far tougher.
Marc Wilmots' side have become the rising power on the continent and asserted themselves in the summer with a quarter-final finish at the World Cup in Brazil that seemed something of an anti-climax after all the hyperbole.
Given that they beat an excellent Algeria, Fabio Capello's Russia, the technically accomplished South Koreans and the most driven and brave American side yet seen, the verdict of underachievement is harsh.
Perhaps they are feeling the strain in their own ranks. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was forced to apologise this week when he went on an extraordinary televised rant after Belgium's 3-1 friendly victory over Iceland.
The Chelsea goalkeeper was furious with the lack of effort from his teammates and revealed that he told manager Wilmots to substitute some of them because they weren't trying.
He later blamed his outburst on adrenaline.
Wales and Bale should look to take advantage of any kind. This is as tough as the qualifying campaign will get.
Take a result of any kind here and, at the very least, a place in the play-offs should be up for grabs. There's everything to play for now.
It's time for Bale to take his chance.
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