London (AFP) – Gareth Bale said he wants to round off “an incredible journey” by taking Wales to a first World Cup since 1958 as he prepares to win his 100th cap against Belarus on Saturday.
The Real Madrid forward became the then youngest player to appear for his country in May 2006 when making his debut in a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago aged just 16.
More than 15 years on, Bale will become the second Welshman after Chris Gunter to reach a century of caps after recovering from a hamstring tear that has kept him out for the past two months.
“It has been an incredible journey and one that started very young,” said the 32-year-old, the country’s record scorer with 36 goals.
“To get 100 caps will personally be an incredible achievement and one you never think about when you start out.
“We have been through the lows when I first joined to grow Welsh football, to try to put it on the right path and inspire the generations coming through. We have done a great job and hopefully there is more to come.”
A four-time Champions League winner at Madrid, Bale has also led his country to two European Championships, including a run to the semi-finals in 2016.
But he admitted playing at a World Cup remains a glaring omission on his sparkling CV.
“The World Cup is something at the top of everyone’s list,” he said. “It is the next thing we want to do — the thing we haven’t done before.
“As much as I will enjoy hopefully getting the 100th cap, the most important thing is the game and not the occasion.”
Wales are guaranteed a World Cup qualifying playoff spot in March due to their Nations League success.
But they could make life easier for themselves with positive results at home to Belarus and Belgium, whom they play on Tuesday, in their final two qualifiers.
Four points would be enough to secure second place in Group E and home advantage in their playoff semi-final.
Two wins would even secure automatic qualification in the unlikely event Belgium lose at home to Estonia.
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