In order to travel to Qatar with the best possible fitness, Gareth Bale went looking for a club in the summer. After becoming one of the best-paid bench pressers in football at Real Madrid and only playing sporadically, the 33-year-old Welsh star was certain: With the World Cup in mind, there must be a club that is outright on him sets and gives him the necessary match practice. Eventually, he chose Los Angeles FC. Far from great glamor, the league is rather second-class.
After all, the man with the wonderful feeling in his left foot was able to celebrate winning the US championship with his new club at the beginning of November. But his part in it was manageable. Two goals (including one in the final) in 12 games. Quite little for someone who had previously set standards in Europe and had won the Champions League five times with Madrid. So Bale was able to focus on the essentials quite early on: completing a strong World Cup with his home country.
After all, qualifying for the global showdown in Arabia was almost historic: thanks to victories in the qualifying play-offs, beating Austria 2-1 and beating Ukraine 1-0, Wales made it to a final for the first time since 1958. No nation had had to wait that long between two participations.
And because Bale had scored all three goals in the knockout games, he was able to state beforehand: "By participating in the World Cup, we have already ticked off the last item on my list. Because it was always my dream to play a World Cup with Wales. It is the biggest result in history for Welsh football. Everything that comes now is an encore.”
The fact that he managed to make the jump to the World Cup, which other prominent Welsh legends like Ian Rush or Ryan Giggs had not been able to do, quickly faded into the background. Bale scored in the 1-1 draw with the USA – Wales' first World Cup game since losing on June 19, 1958. In the quarter-finals against Brazil with the then 17-year-old Pelé – he scored from the penalty spot. But after the following 0:2 against the selection of Iran, frustration was the order of the day: for him and for the entire entourage of the national team. "Obviously we're disappointed with the results, but that's football. It's not easy," Bale said on Monday.
Against their old arch-rivals, of all things, the almost impossible had to be achieved: Only with a win over England, that much was certain beforehand, could they still make it into the round of 16. Things turned out very differently at Doha's Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Tuesday night. Before the break, Wales only allowed two chances through Marcus Rashford (9th) and Phil Foden (38th). But the 0-0 half-time score, which made everything seem possible, was quickly followed by disillusionment. First, Rashford scored with a direct free kick from 21 meters (51st), which is worth seeing. Then captain Harry Kane took advantage of a mistake in the opponent's defense and fit into the middle, where Foden had no trouble executing (52'). It was the knockout for Wales. within 96 seconds. Rashford followed up with a nice solo to make it 3-0 (68').
Bale followed the decline from the bench, having been substituted slightly injured at the break. And so he remained pale during his presumably last big appearance on the big football stage. The 111th international match ended without a happy ending for him. In the few duels with his opponent Luke Shaw in the first half, he was almost never able to assert himself. It was a quiet departure for the 40-time goalscorer for his country. He was asked on Monday whether he would end his international career if he were eliminated from the World Cup. His answer: "No."
But will he come back again? At the 2026 World Cup he would be 37 years old. And the EM participation in 2024 is also quite uncertain. Only in 2016 did Wales make it to the finals – and then even to the semi-finals with an outstanding Bale. Not only the fans from Wales may have wished on Tuesday evening in Doha that Bale's farewell after the game was not forever.