LONDON • Gareth Bale takes his first step on the road to World Cup qualification with Wales against Moldova on today and manager Chris Coleman believes the forward is still getting better.
The 27-year-old Real Madrid star scored three goals as Wales sensationally reached the Euro 2016 semi-finals - matching the best performance by a British team in an overseas tournament.
The challenge now facing Bale is to build on that momentum by firing Wales to the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia and Coleman says the player is hungry to make more history.
"Gareth scored inside 75 seconds of Real's first game of the season (against Real Sociedad), but I never get surprised by him," he said ahead of the Group D opener at Cardiff City Stadium.
"I know he's capable of almost anything and I think Real Madrid are very excited about the future with Bale.
SUCH FEATS ARE COMMON FOR HIM
Gareth scored inside 75 seconds of Real's first game of the season (against Real Sociedad), but I never get surprised by him.
CHRIS COLEMAN, Wales manager, on his talisman Gareth Bale.
"They recognise that they've got someone who's going to be there for a while and someone who is capable of winning everything.
"He's getting better and better still. Along with that incredible ability, he's got that first-class mentality as well. It's a winning formula for Real Madrid and for Wales, and I think he will have another good season."
Prior to the Euros, Wales had not competed at a major tournament finals since the 1958 World Cup and their exploits electrified the nation.
However, Coleman has warned that his side's achievements in France will count for nothing in the new World Cup campaign.
"It was so special, but it is gone, that moment is finished. We have to create something new," he said.
In a balanced group, Wales are likely to face strong challenges for the lone automatic qualifying berth from Austria, Serbia and the Republic of Ireland. Georgia complete the pool.
While Bale is fit and firing, Wales will be without key midfielder Aaron Ramsey against Moldova - as they were when they lost to eventual champions Portugal in the Euro semi-finals. The Arsenal star has a hamstring injury.
Attacking midfielder Jonathan Williams, who recently joined Ipswich Town on loan from Crystal Palace, is also out.
Goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey is expected to start despite missing Palace's 1-1 draw with Bournemouth last weekend owing to a leg problem.
An independent nation since 1991, Moldova have never qualified for a major championship and have only won one of their last 21 games.