Gareth Bale says playing for Wales ‘more exciting’ than Real Madrid

• Bale: ‘It’s like playing with your mates down the park’
• Wales play Azerbaijan in crucial Euro 2020 qualifier in Baku

Gareth Bale has admitted he finds it more exciting to play for Wales than Real Madrid, a statement unlikely to be warmly received by his club. Speaking before the Euro 2020 qualifier against Azerbaijan in Baku, Bale said he felt more comfortable playing for his country and likened doing so to “playing with your mates down the park”.

Bale has been criticised in Spain for reporting for international duty despite not having played a minute for Zinedine Zidane’s side since 5 October. The 30-year-old has not featured since scoring the equaliser in a 1-1 draw against Croatia last month, when he sustained a calf injury that has prevented him from training with Real’s first-team squad.

Bale participated in full training in Cardiff before flying to Baku on Thursday for Saturday’s decisive Group E qualifier. Wales must win their remaining matches against Azerbaijan and Hungary and hope Slovakia drop points to secure automatic passage to Euro 2020.

“I definitely have more excitement playing for Wales,” Bale said. “I’ve been with most of the older players since we were in the under-17s. It’s like playing with your mates down the park on a Sunday. With Wales, I’m speaking my own language and feel more comfortable. But it doesn’t change what I do on the pitch. I always give 100% on the pitch wherever I am; that’s what I always strive to do.”

Hie Real clubmate Toni Kroos recently criticised Bale for joining up with Wales having missed club games, with the midfielder quoted as saying “maybe this is not the best time”. Predrag Mijatovic, the former Real striker, also questioned Bale by stating his priorities were “Wales, golf, and after that Real Madrid”.

Bale, asked about how he is portrayed by the Spanish media, replied: “I find it hilarious to be honest, especially some of the pictures and stuff my friends send me. On one [front page headline] it said ‘triple bogey’ – and I’ve never had a triple bogey! At least give me an albatross! It’s funny. People don’t understand and don’t know what they’re on about. So I just find it quite funny.

“I’ve tried to get back [to fitness] as quick as I can. If there had been a Real Madrid game this week I would’ve been fit and training to play. Maybe to them [the Spanish media] it doesn’t look great but it’s just a kind of coincidence that the national team comes around this week and I’ve returned to full training. If I’m fit, no matter where I am, I’m going to try to play, whether it be for Wales or Real Madrid. For me it was a no-brainer: if I’m fit to play then I’ll give it my all.”

Bale is lacking match fitness but expects to play against Azerbaijan and then against Hungary in Cardiff on Tuesday. It means Ryan Giggs will be able to field Bale and the returning Aaron Ramsey together for the first time in this qualifying campaign. The Juventus midfielder is set to make his first Wales appearance for almost 12 months following a thigh injury.

“It’s huge,” said Ben Davies, the Wales defender, “but a lot of credit has to go to the boys who have come in and done the business while they [Bale and Ramsey] have not been playing together. There was a time where we were relying a lot on them and most of the goal involvements were just those two.

“It shows how far we have come that we have been playing well without Rambo for the last year or so but to have someone of his quality coming back is amazing. There are a lot of young, hungry, talented players who want to experience what we did in Euro 2016 and it’s no different for the senior players.”

The goalkeeper Danny Ward has not travelled to Azerbaijan for personal reasons, with Newport’s Tom King called up, and the Derby forward Tom Lawrence has not travelled because of illness. Wales are without Swansea’s Joe Rodon after the defender had surgery on an ankle injury but the captain, Ashley Williams, who recently extended his contract at Bristol City until the end of the season, has returned to the squad.

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“We have to be pretty calm – emotions can’t get in the way,” Davies said. “It can be nervy if you start getting caught up in trying to score too early or force things to get that early goal. It’s a long 90 minutes and I don’t care if we score in the 91st minute or the first, as long as we win.”


Ben Fisher

The GuardianTramp

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