Welsh keep fingers crossed as Bale scores on comeback for Real Madrid
Wales are praying that Gareth Bale doesn't suffer any injury setbacks ahead of the pivotal World Cup qualifier against Ireland on March 24, after their talisman made a goalscoring comeback for Real Madrid on Saturday.
A fit Bale would be a huge boost for Wales, who will head into the Aviva showdown third in Group D, four points adrift of Martin O'Neill's leaders.
Manager Chris Coleman and his assistant Osian Roberts travelled to Madrid last week to check on their skipper's well-being and were hugely encouraged by his return to action for Real in their 2-0 victory over Espanyol after ankle surgery.
However, for all the boost in confidence his comeback from a three month lay-off brings to the Welsh camp, Bale's availability for international duty is not being taken as a given.
Roberts cited the case of Manchester City skipper Vincent Kompany as an example of how the best-laid plans can be scuppered.
"We're crossing our fingers that there will not be any setbacks," he told BBC Radio.
"A member of the Real Madrid's medical staff also works with us at Wales. From talking to him, they've been careful and done what is right for Gareth and what is right for the long term, so in theory there will be no setbacks.
"There is nothing sadder for me than to see a player who is coming back from injury and gets injured straight away afterwards. It's mentally difficult for players to take."
Initial reports indicated the ankle problems suffered by Bale last November would keep him out of the match against Ireland.
The recovery of a player described by Coleman as an "absolute machine" six weeks early is no surprise to Roberts, considering the insight he provided on Bale's dedication.
"Nature might play a part (in Bale's ability to quickly recover from injuries), but I prefer to believe in the hard work he gets through," said the Wales No.2.
"We see Gareth when he scores goals for Wales and Real Madrid and the other amazing things he does on the field, but what most people do not see is the hard work he puts in behind closed doors, in private, that gives him a base to make the most of the special talent he has.
"He's so well-disciplined - he's happy to sacrifice some things in life to make sure he makes the most of his talent.
"Gareth does not go out or drink alcohol. He's incredibly professional. He's been working for weeks on end, getting into the club for 9am every morning and not leaving until 8pm.
"His days have been longer whilst he has been injured than when he's fit and playing.
"We're expecting Gareth to carefully build up his minutes under the Madrid manager (Zinedine Zidane). Hopefully he will be ready to join up with us next month."
Having come on for the last 20 minutes of Saturday's match, Bale - sidelined since the Champions League group match at Sporting Lisbon on November 22 - raced on to a pass from Isco down the left and slotted the ball into the far corner.
A first-half header from Alvaro Morata had set Real Madrid on course for victory.
Last night Barcelona narrowed the gap on their bitter rivals at the top of the table to a single point, having played two more games, as Lionel Messi converted a last-minute penalty gto give them a 2-1 nervy win over Leganes.
The champions had looked set for a routine home victory after Messi had opened the scoring in the fourth minute when he converted Luis Suarez's sumptuous pass.
However, Unai Lopez equalised for the visitors with only 19 minutes remaining only for Messi to score from the spot after Neymar had been brought down to give under-pressure Barca boss Luis Enrique some respite.
Sevilla lie third two points further adrift of Enrique's charges with Atletico Madrid fourth after they completed 2-0 and 4-1 victories over Eibar and Sporting Gijon respectively on Saturday.