Wales all-time leading goalscorer Ian Rush is hoping that Real Madrid star Gareth Bale will break his record and get the Welsh back on track in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Wales sits in third in Group D with six points after one win and three draws in four matches. The Welsh takes on group leaders Ireland on Friday at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, and could narrow the gap to just one point with a win.
The hopes of the Welsh lay heavily on Gareth Bale. The Real Madrid forward/winger is by far the best player on the national team, and he’s already led them to a memorable run at Euro 2016 where they reached the semifinals.
Former Liverpool and Wales striker Ian Rush is hoping that a fit Bale can get the team back to winning after drawing the last three games in the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia next summer. So far in the qualifiers, Bale has netted four goals in four appearances.
“It’s massive for Wales that Bale is there after his injury problems,” Rush said. “He’s been the most improved player in the world over the last couple of years and, as we’ve seen many times before, he is capable of winning a game with a moment of magic.
“Martin O’Neill is a very cautious manager and will do everything he can to stop Wales counter-attacking the Republic. But it is almost impossible to keep someone of Gareth’s ability quiet for 90 minutes.”
Bale suffered an ankle injury in a game against Sporting CP in November, which kept him sidelined until mid-February. His impact on the Welsh national team can’t be overstated, and it’s comparable to some other nations in the past like Sweden and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Bale is an elite player that can and will win you games on his own. What Wales did at Euro 2016 was an incredible feat, and manager Chris Coleman has done a phenomenal job of building the team around Bale and make them into a good unit defensively.
Rush added that he’s hoping that Bale will break his all-time scoring record for Wales. Rush had 28 goals in 73 appearances for the national team. Bale sits at 26 goals in 65 caps.
“Records are there to be broken, I’ve never worried about them. I’ve always thought someone would break my record one day, and if you’re going to lose it then it may as well be to one of the best players in the world. In fact, I’d like to see him break the record in Dublin because it would mean he’s got a hat trick.
“I never qualified for a World Cup, but I’m a fan now and I want to see Wales play at one in Russia. If Gareth is scoring goals then Wales are probably winning and have the best chance of being there.
“You saw how much it meant to the country last summer when Wales reached the semifinals of the Euros.”
With the three draws, Wales have put themselves in a less than ideal situation in Group D, which puts added pressure on their away fixture to Ireland on Friday.
“There’s a lot riding on this game, more for Wales than Ireland,” Rush said. “We did more than enough to beat Serbia in our last game but could not see it out. But there’s still a long way to go in this group and teams will continue to take points off each other.
“Georgia have done that by drawing in Wales and Ireland were lucky to beat them in Dublin. But I think Wales need four points out of the next six to stay in with a chance of finishing top of the group.”
Wales sits four points behind leaders Ireland, and two points behind second-placed Serbia. The Serbians take on Georgia in Tbilisi on Friday.