MADRID • Gareth Bale hopes three tough months on the sidelines will have their recompense by helping Real Madrid's bid for La Liga and Champions League glory and Wales' hopes of reaching the World Cup Finals.
The forward made an instant impact on his first taste of action for 88 days after damaging ankle ligaments, when he fired home Real's second goal in a 2-0 win over Espanyol on Saturday just 13 minutes after coming off the bench.
And the Welshman hopes he can match his fantastic form from the final three months of last season after suffering injury problems earlier in the campaign.
"Every cloud has a silver lining, hopefully I am a bit fresher than maybe some others," said Bale. "It can work (to) my advantage to be out for a little bit, but the important thing now is to get back to 100 per cent and playing well and to help the team."
Victory took Real four points clear of Barcelona at the top of La Liga with a game in hand.
However, Zinedine Zidane's men face an intense final few months of the campaign with 18 La Liga games and their defence of the Champions League still to play for.
Bale's return is also a timely boost for Wales manager Chris Coleman ahead of his side's crunch World Cup qualifier away to the Republic of Ireland on March 24.
"I plan not to get injured any more," said the player. "Hopefully now I can keep building my fitness up over the next few weeks... hopefully I can be fit for Real Madrid as soon as possible to play 90 minutes, and obviously for Wales as well."
Bale was given a hero's reception on his return by the Santiago Bernabeu crowd. And he admitted getting on the scoresheet was just a bonus to the joy of being back among the action.
"Jaime Benito (physio) has been incredible for me, my family have been amazing, my fiancee, my kids. It's been a difficult time but when you get a reception like that it makes it all worth it," he said.
And Bale insisted that he is not expecting to be rushed back into the starting line-up by Zidane.
"It will take a few weeks to get back to 100 per cent, it's just about managing my game time," he said. "It depends how I feel game by game."
However, the Real manager admitted that Bale brings special qualities that others cannot offer.
"We only have one Gareth Bale," said the Frenchman. "We are happy to see Gareth back with the team. He is a special player, he gives us something different from the rest."