GARETH BALE, who else?
The Wales captain proved a hero once more after a 34th-minute free-kick, headed into his own net by Ukraine’s Andriy Yarmolenko, sent his country through to a World Cup for the first time in 64 years.
Bale propelled the Dragons into that play-off final against Austria in March thanks to a stunning salvo of two goals, including a spectacular set piece.
The Real Madrid superstar ran away jubilantly after scoring his last free-kick at the rain-soaked Cardiff City Stadium.
But when Wales’ record goalscorer watches a repeat of the left-footed shot, even he realizes he can’t add it to his 38 international goals.
It was an unfortunate mistake by Yarmolenko but the West Ham full-back had fallen so low towards goal that he asked for trouble when his header flew past Ukraine goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan on a slippery surface.
On the eve of that difficult play-off against war-torn Ukraine, Bale said qualifying for the World Cup was the “missing” piece on his impressive resume for his country.
Bale has played for Wales at two EUROs, broken Ian Rush’s goal record and won 100 caps.
The 32-year-old was dying to represent Wales on the biggest stage ever.
Some of the world’s best players – Alfredo di Stefano, Duncan Edwards, George Best, George Weah, Ryan Giggs to name a few – never had the chance to play in a Global Finals.
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But Talisman Bale will lead his team-mates in Qatar against arch-rivals England, Iran and USA.
Now the big question will be where will the five-time Champions League winners play at club level next season?
Earlier this week, Bale officially announced that he will leave Real Madrid when his contract expires at the end of this month.
Ex-Southampton and Tottenham star Bale tried to downplay the talk of retirement if Wales fail to qualify, then grinned too as he teased: “I’ve got plenty” of offers for a new home.
Cardiff-born Bale has been heavily linked with a move to the Championship with the Bluebirds.
While the golf nut could find a move to MLS in America extremely appealing.
Wales fans will want to know what the next step in a glittering career is.
Bale is revered in Wales and received the loudest cheer from the Red Wall yesterday as the stadium announcer read out the teams.
Then, after warming up, Bale headed into the dressing room to a chorus of “Viva Gareth Bale.” All eyes were on him.
He’d delivered for Wales so many times, but did he have one final magical moment in his locker?
Bale led his men out before a rousing performance of the Welsh national anthem followed.
Despite a caution from Joe Allen within two minutes, Spain official Antonio Miguel Mateu called on Lahoz Bale to get up after claiming a free-kick.
It was a hectic start as Wales’ talisman struggled to get into play.
Bale made an attempt in the 20th minute that flew high over the bar from long range.
Then came the big moment. Dan James was fouled by Ruslan Malinovskyi, Bale launched from a tight angle from 25 meters down the left side of the box and Yarmolenko headed home.
Long second best, Wales owed great performances to keeper Wayne Hennessey and defender Ben Davies to keep Ukraine at bay.
Bale worked his way out of his socks and after Brennan Johnson volleyed into a post he had a chance to finish off the Ukrainians only to see his shot saved by Bushchan.
It wasn’t one of Bale’s best performances in a Wales shirt, but he still got a standing ovation when he was replaced by Harry Wilson with eight minutes remaining.
But as he himself said at his pre-match press conference on Saturday, “Even if I play horribly, I don’t care as long as we win.”
And Bale won’t care a bit now that Wales copied the lads of 1958 by qualifying for the World Cup.
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/football/premier-league/5495442/wales-gareth-bale-world-cup-verdict/ Where does his club future lie after the summer transfer?