The €100million man played a leading role as Wales reached the semi-finals of the last European Championship in 2016.
Widely unfancied before that tournament, Wales were only denied a place in the final by eventual champions Portugal as Cristiano Ronaldo got one over his then Madrid team-mate Bale.
Now Wales go again on the big stage, with Bale coming off a strong finish to the season on loan at Tottenham.
He finished the campaign with 16 goals and three assists in 34 games, starting just 19 of those matches but showing enough flickers of his best form to suggest there is more to come from the 31-year-old. He far exceeded his expected goals (xG) score of 11.07 and converted 11 of 15 goal opportunities defined by Opta as ‘big chances’ (73.3 per cent).
Reminded of Wales’ stellar run five years ago, Bale said: “We’d love to replicate it, but we’re realistic. We know it’s a different tournament, playing different teams. We also have a very different team to what we did have.
“So it’s going to be difficult going into it against these top nations, but we’re confident in our own ability and what we can do on the pitch, and we’ll be doing everything we can on and off the pitch to try and make as much a success of it as we can.”
— Gareth Bale (@GarethBale11) May 27, 2021
Bale became a fringe figure at Madrid under Zinedine Zidane’s leadership, but with the Frenchman having left Los Blancos, there is the chance of a fresh start in LaLiga for the winger. The flag he held up bearing the slogan ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order’, when Wales qualified for this tournament, caused uproar in Spain, yet a fit Bale could still be an asset to Zidane’s successor.
His first season back at Madrid after Euro 2016 proved underwhelming, with Bale hit by injuries and managing just nine goals in 27 games, failing to exceed his expected goals (xG) mark of 9.32, having done so in two of his previous three campaigns at the Santiago Bernabeu.
A significantly better campaign followed – 21 goals from an xG of 15.82, including a double off the bench against Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final – but Bale was drifting away from being a regular starter.
He will captain Wales in the upcoming finals, with their opening game coming against Switzerland on June 12 in Baku.
Wales then face Turkey, also in Baku, before heading to Rome to tackle Italy.
After a tremendous quarter-final victory over Belgium at Euro 2016, there will be optimism in the Welsh ranks that something special can be achieved again.
This time, unlike in France in 2016, Wales will have to cope without the songs and the support of their fans in the group stage.
The UK government is advising against all but essential travel to Azerbaijan and Italy.
Bale believes the players will have a good idea of the atmosphere back home in Wales, which would be particularly fervent if the team find a winning knack again.
“I think with everything in terms of the media and even speaking to your friends on Whatsapp, you’ll get a gist of what’s going on back home,” Bale said, speaking as Wales finalised their 26-man squad for the tournament.
“We know we’ll be supported in large numbers back in Wales and we’ll be trying to do everyone proud.”
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