Chris Coleman is optimistic “absolute machine” Gareth Bale will be at his disposal for Wales’ must-win 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifier away to Republic of Ireland. The Real Madrid No11 had ankle surgery at the end of November, which was expected to keep him sidelined for around four months. Wales, who began as the marginal favourites to win Group D but now sit third, two points behind Serbia and four shy of Ireland, play at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on 24 March.
“Recovery’s going well,” Bale said in a video he posted on Monday evening. “My ankle’s feeling better every day.”
Coleman, speaking after collecting a Special Recognition Award at the Wales Sports Awards, commented: "If anybody is going to be back before the time that has been given to us it will be Bale.
“With that type of injury you are looking at three months-ish. But three months is a long time. You can get a setback, or be fast-tracked if anything is going really well. We are hoping it's the latter, but we have a bit of time between now and March and he has a bit of time to make sure he gets himself right.
"He is ok. People were talking about a three-month period and if anybody is going to get back before then, it will be him. He is an absolute machine, such an athlete.
"Physically he is probably one of the fittest players I have ever seen. He is a consummate professional and lives his life right, and if anyone has a chance of getting back before it will be him."
Republic of Ireland and Wales have won five games apiece in 13 encounters. The Dragons’ last win away to the Irish was 1-0 in 1992, when Mark Pembridge half-volleyed a huge goal-kick from Neville Southall past Packie Bonner.
Bale, who dazzled as Real won the FIFA Club World Cup in 2014, has scored 26 goals in 65 internationals – just two shy of the Wales record held by former Liverpool and Juventus striker Ian Rush.
Sweden 1958 is the only World Cup in which Wales have participated. They came from behind to beat Hungary 2-1 and reach the quarter-finals, where, without injured talisman John Charles, they put up a spirited fight in a 1-0 loss to eventual champions Brazil.
A late penalty from Scotland’s Davie Cooper denied Neville Southall, Mark Hughes, Ian Rush and Co a place at Mexico 1986. UEFA EURO 2016 was the first major tournament Wales competed at in 58 years.