Back after 64 years at a World Cup, Wales left the competition after the group stage with just one point gained, six goals conceded and one goal scored, by Gareth Bale from the penalty spot against the USA. “The ‘Dragons’ remain with just one win in their World Cup history: 2-1 against Hungary in 1958.
What happens next for Wales’ leader and captain Gareth Bale, scorer of his country’s only goal at the World Cup in Qatar? The Welsh captain spoke about his future after the defeat to England.
Perhaps the goal he scored from the penalty spot, the same goal that sealed a 1-1 draw in the opening game against the United States and was ultimately Wales’ only goal at the World Cup in Qatar, is the happiest image Gareth Bale will cherish. The Welsh captain’s dream of progressing from the group stage was shattered by a 3-0 defeat to England (who finished top of Group B) and capped a very poor World Cup for his team, who took just one point from nine and finished bottom of the group. But now that he’s said his goodbyes, it’s time to review and rethink: will the 33-year-old striker continue to lead his country?
“I will continue as long as I can and as long as they want me to. It’s a difficult period, but it doesn’t stop. In March the European Championship qualifiers start and I hope to be there,” the Los Angeles FC striker said after his World Cup debut in Qatar, suggesting he is not thinking of retiring from the national team despite not having his best game and being substituted at half-time in the defeat to England due to fitness problems.
In fact, the former Real Madrid and Tottenham star looked half full at what was Wales’ second World Cup experience in their history (the previous, Sweden 1958) and said, “You have to think how far we’ve come in a team that hadn’t qualified for a long time. We didn’t live up to our expectations, but we gained a lot of experience.
“We should pinch ourselves to realise we’ve been to a World Cup, we should realise that and be proud. We will come out of the dressing room with our heads held high. We can have no regrets,” was Bale’s final word after the defeat to England, which ended his and his teammates’ dream. Qatar is now in the past for Wales, but it looks like their captain still has a long way to go…
Bale is therefore looking ahead to Euro 2024, when he will be 35, and, why not, the 2026 World Cup in Canada, USA and Mexico, when the MLS star will be 37.
Gareth Bale’s next national team challenge is the March 2023 European qualifier against Croatia. Latvia, Turkey and Armenia are also in the Euro 2024 preliminary group, which means Wales have an a priori chance of a second-place play-off with Turkey, as the Croatian team are considered favourites. The fact that the Welsh did much better at the Euros than at the World Cup may work in the Dragons’ favour.
“We are frustrated. We would have liked to play better and create more chances, but it just didn’t happen for us in this tournament. In the last two Euros we’ve gone out of the group. We always give 100% and play with heart – we have no regrets,” added the man who won 5 Champions Leagues with Real Madrid.