world cup 2022
Brilliant Bale fires Wales into the World Cup playoff finals
Gareth Bale was on target twice as Wales beat Austria 2-1 in their playoff on Thursday to move a step closer to a first World Cup finals appearance in 64 years.
Inspirational Gareth Bale scored both goals as Wales beat Austria 2-1 in their playoff semi-final on Thursday to move a step closer to a first World Cup finals appearance in 64 years.
Wales to meet either Scotland or Ukraine in play-off finals
The 32-year-old Real Madrid forward fired home a precise free kick in the 25th minute to open the scoring, emphasising his role as the team's talisman with a superb effort in Cardiff. It was followed up by quick thinking from a short corner in the 51st from which captain Bale scored again to ensure Wales’ progress to a playoff final at home to either Scotland or Ukraine in June.
A deflected shot from Marcel Sabitzer in the 64th minute offered Austria hope of a comeback as a wasteful Wales endured a nervy finish but the home side held on for a deserved win to stay on course for what would be only their second World Cup appearance. Bale lifted the atmosphere and propelled his team mates to victory with a superb left footed free kick from outside the penalty area that dipped dramatically into the top corner of Heinz Lindner’s goal.
Wales, World Cup quarter-finalists in 1958, survived a scare when Christoph Baumgartner slammed the ball against the bar in the fifth minute but once Bale had opened the scoring they found their rhythm and were able to create numerous chances.
Their pressing and counter attacking game offered opportunities, especially five minutes from halftime when Aaron Ramsay sprinted upfield only to see his shot expertly turned around the corner by a diving Lindner. The Austrian also made two important second half stops from breakaways led by Dan James but could do nothing about Bale’s close-range shot that doubled the score six minutes into the second half. A short corner routine saw the ball played into the box where Ben Davies looked to bring it under control but Bale stole it off his team mate, turning to slam the ball home.
The Real Madrid forward perhaps should have had a hat-trick on the counter attack just past the hour mark but his left footed effort sailed wide over the target. Austria reduced the Wales lead when Sabitzer was given time to shoot from outside the area with the effort deflecting off Davies and wrong-footing goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey. It threatened to make Wales pay for squandering their chances but they held out and might have added a third right at the end when Lindner made another fine stop to deny Ramsay.
Scotland's play-off semi-final meeting with Ukraine at Hampden Park was originally scheduled for 24 March 2022 but has been postponed due to the Russian invasion and will now take place in June. Wales will face the winners of that match in one of the three finals with Poland to face Sweden and Portgual against North Macedonia in the other games.