Wales 0-2 Iran: A late Wayne Hennessy red card sent Rob Page’s men soaring and conceding twice in dying embers to put them on the brink of exit from the Qatar 2022 World Cup
With 15 minutes left in the game, Gareth Bale waved his arms up and down in front of the red wall, imploring them to do more.
In fairness, Welsh fans were entitled to make the same gesture towards their captain, such was the marginal role he played for his country. Four days earlier, at the same Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium, Bale was once again the hero of his country, winning and converting a late penalty kick to draw 1-1 with the United States.
The advantage was bestowed on Bale, from his ability to manage his energy levels throughout the 90 minutes, to his cool header who kept sending such a high pressure kick. But here, in the searing Doha lunchtime heat, he found Bale willing, the 33-year-old unable to impress the outcome with his individual brilliance, as he has done on many big occasions in the past, for club and country.
Two starts for Los Angeles FC this season wasn’t enough preparation for the World Cup, and all the right questions about Bale’s match fitness and stamina were proven right by his swashbuckling performance.
On the eve of the match, Bell invited the schoolchildren of Wales into the morning off to watch their country in World Cup matches in another historic day for the nation.
But if some schools give that wish, Bale and his teammates didn’t keep their side of the bargain, running the entire time and conceding two goals in overtime for all but one sealing their World Cup exit, after a 64-year wait. To honor the biggest stage ever.
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Tuesday’s match against England, at the same venue, could be Bale’s last in a Wales shirt, despite his refusal to give a definitive answer whenever the subject of his possible international retirement is raised.
However, Bell’s anonymous offer provided compelling evidence as to why, after such distinguished service to Wales, that would have been the right choice.
Time waits for no player and Bale, who has already made a huge move at club level with LAFC, must now concede his time with Wales is now over.
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So too for Aaron Ramsey, another member of the indefatigable Wales side who reached the Euro 2016 semi-finals but someone who, like Bale, is past his international sale and whose limits Iran has exposed.
With 110 caps and 41 goals, Bale’s status as a Welsh legend was confirmed. But with a new generation emerging, with the likes of Dan James, Brennan Johnson, and Harry Wilson, it’s time to pass the baton and let them write a new history.