Bale’s World Cup ambition is more than Wales going far

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DOHA, Qatar — For most national team captains arriving at the World Cup, the dream is to be the one left holding the trophy at Lusail Stadium on Dec. 18. But for Wales captain Gareth Bale, it’s a little different. He’s in Qatar to win matches, that’s obvious, but there’s also something bigger at play. It’s his hope that when the World Cup rolls around in 2042 there’s another player leading out a Welsh team on football’s biggest stage with a memory of 2022 stuck in his head.

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This is Wales’ first World Cup in Bale’s lifetime and he talks about his childhood memories of the competition being tainted because his country weren’t there. But he’s hopeful after leading Wales to their first qualification since 1958 that there will be youngsters at home watching the games against the United States, Iran — who they face on Friday — and England and be inspired to follow in his footsteps.

“As a kid I dreamt of seeing Wales at a World Cup but to actually be in the team that achieved it is an incredible feeling and it’s an honour to be able to do it for the country,” said Bale. “For the youngsters growing up now, to have Wales in the World Cup, even if they don’t realise it now, it’s an incredible experience for them to have. It’s one I wish that I’d had.

“By doing what we’ve done, hopefully we’re going to have a strong national team in the future and in 20 years’ time they’re sitting where I am now saying that Wales qualifying for the World Cup in 2022 was what inspired them to play football and to love it.”

Bale, a five-time winner of the Champions League while at Real Madrid, has done as much as anyone to make football in his country relevant again. Wales’ last great player, Ryan Giggs, was regularly criticised for putting his club, Manchester United, before his country and despite making his international debut as a teenager in 1991, he didn’t play a friendly fixture until 2000….

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