Gareth Bale says he is fit and raring to go as Wales look to end their 57-year wait to qualify for a major tournament by booking a place at Euro 2016.
Chris Coleman’s side head into their last two Group B qualifiers against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday and at home to Andorra on October 13 knowing they need just one point to guarantee their berth at an elite event for the first time since the 1958 World Cup.
Wales, who have never appeared at the European Championships, will be able to start planning their trip to France for next year’s finals if they beat or draw with Bosnia and they could even make it with a defeat, if third placed Israel lose or draw against Cyprus.
After the frustration of failing to seal qualification in a nervous draw against Israel last month, Coleman’s unbeaten group leaders have a second chance to make history when they head to the Stadion Bilino Polje in Zenica.
And crucially for Wales’ hopes, Real Madrid forward Bale is back to full fitness after suffering a calf injury last month that kept him out for three weeks.
The former Tottenham star, who was voted Welsh player of the year for a record fifth time on Monday, has been the key figure in his country’s surprise push to reach Euro 2016, scoring six of Wales’ nine goals and setting up two.
Now he wants to finish the job against Bosnia.
“We have been working hard for many years to be in this position,” Bale said.
“We have all been playing with each other for six to eight years. The manager has come in and been amazing.
“I have prepared well for the last couple of weeks with my rehab. We are all on board, ready to go.
“The calf is okay. It was a nice 20 minutes to open it up and get the legs going ready for the next two games.”
– Hard times –
Although they have never beaten Bosnia in their three meetings, including a goalless draw in Cardiff earlier in the current qualifying campaign, Bale’s confidence reflects a belief in the Wales camp that their time has come at last.
Welsh legends like Ryan Giggs, Ian Rush and Mark Hughes never made it to a major international tournament and the last time the nation even came close to qualifying was in 2004 when they were beaten by Russia in a European Championship play-off.
Wales defender Chris Gunter can’t wait to savour the feeling of making history for his country.
“We’re not the biggest nation but we probably should have done better than we have, certainly the teams I’ve been involved in, and for Welsh fans it’s been real hard times over the years,” he said.
“So it’s nice to be involved in the right sort of scenarios towards the end of the group and the fans can dream about what’s coming.”
Fourth placed Bosnia sit two points behind Israel and must win to keep alive their hopes of qualifying.
They are keeping their fingers crossed that Roma striker Edin Dzeko makes a quicker than expected recovery from a knee injury, but Everton defender Muhamed Besic is suspended.