Bale still Wales' Talisman

Veteran forward's creativity a major boon for teammates and a source of concern for Swiss

BAKU • Gareth Bale may not be the same player he was five years ago, when he inspired Wales to their best finish at a major tournament as they reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016.

An underwhelming 2019-20 season with Real Madrid saw him get shipped out on loan to Tottenham last term.

The 31-year-old's second spell in north London initially looked like an expensive mistake but Bale ended the campaign with a flourish, racking up a tally of 16 goals in all competitions and helping Spurs qualify for the inaugural Europa Conference League.

The forward will lead the line as the Welsh take on Switzerland in their Euro 2020 Group A opener in Azerbaijan today, and despite lingering concerns over his form, particularly at international level, he is ready to once again assume the mantle as Wales' talisman.

"It doesn't matter. I've made assists. I'm still contributing. I'm not worried," Bale, whose last strike for his national side came 11 games ago dating back to October 2019, said. "If the chances arise to score, hopefully, I can take it."

Even if he is not at his clinical best, he can still create, with four assists from his past seven international games and Wales coach Robert Page, standing in for Ryan Giggs, who is embroiled in an ongoing criminal trial for assault, is confident the forward's presence alone will be a big boost.

"It's not the end of the world. If he's not scoring he's supplying goals," Page said. "If he's not scoring, it's important he's setting up goals and he's doing that."

The Swiss are aware of the danger Bale presents and defender Ricardo Rodriguez, whose side concluded their preparations by beating the United States 2-1 and hammering Liechtenstein 7-0, revealed that the team had worked on denying him space.

Unlike their opponents, Wales' final two friendlies were a 3-0 defeat by France and a 0-0 draw with Albania, so they will need Aaron Ramsey to also step up today.

The midfielder, who missed Juventus' last five games because of injury, sat out of the two warmup matches and also missed Thursday's training session, but Page insisted he would be fit as he was "in a good place".

Page added that Giggs would be rooting for the team, saying: "He wishes us all the best and he's fully supportive of the team."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2021, with the headline 'Bale still Wales' Talisman'. Subscribe