I wouldn't swap Gareth Bale for anyone – even Wayne Rooney, says Chris Coleman

Manager may give his match-winning winger licence to roam tonight but demands protection

Chris Coleman, the Wales manager, dismisses claims that his side are a one-man team – that man being the sensational Gareth Bale – but concedes that he would not swap the Tottenham winger for any other player in Britain at present.

Bale scored a stunning late double in a dramatic win over Scotland last Friday to reignite Wales's 2014 World Cup campaign. It also extended his remarkable record of having scored Wales's last five goals in qualifying matches going back over a year.

Bale and Wales face a tough task against Croatia in Osijek tonight, but the manager is putting his faith in his star winger who he says is currently the shining light among the British national teams, including England's Wayne Rooney.

Coleman said: "I wouldn't swap him for anyone else, to be fair. Anyone can see when he's got the ball he's devastating. He's a terrific player. His work-rate is excellent, he comes away with Wales and plays with passion and incredible ability. You'd be crazy to try and swap him.

"He's scored all our goals [in this campaign] so far and I know people are talking about him. He's a show-stopper and people pay money to come and watch him play –but that performance on Friday wasn't just Baley. He got the goals, but there were some terrific performances."

Wales, back in the Balkans just a month on from their 6-1 humiliation to Serbia, are without the injured Craig Bellamy and the suspended Aaron Ramsey. That puts even more attacking onus on Bale, who has scored six times in his last seven appearances for his country, and Coleman admits he is tempted to give his winger a free rein in the crunch Group A showdown. "We've got options with Gareth," says Coleman. "He can be devastating when he plays out wide and cuts inside his full-back. But it's always an option to play him in the centre. We're missing Aaron at the wrong time really.

"Gareth knows where he can hurt the opposition. When you have good players you don't want to pigeon-hole them. Look where he got the winning goal [against Scotland] from – yet he was playing on the right side for us. But when he runs through the middle he can cause other teams problems."

Bale has twice been at the centre of diving controversies for club and country in the last fortnight. But Coleman reckons his flying winger is a marked man and wants the 23-year-old to receive protection from the Romanian referee Alexandru Dan Tudor in Croatia's fourth largest city.

"Every opposition will work on how they are going to stop him," said Coleman. "That's how I'd be thinking if I was the opposition. Gareth didn't get the protection he needed against Belgium. There is a flip side that players like Baley can get kicked from pillar to post so you need strong referees.

"When you have a special player like we have in Baley, referees have to be aware that teams will try and stop him by hook or by crook."

Match facts

Probable teams:

Croatia: PLETIKOSA, STRINIC, CORLUKA*, SIMUNIC*, SRNA*, RAKITIC, MODRIC*, KRANJCAR*, PERISIC, MANDZUKIC, JELAVIC*

Wales: PRICE, DAVIES, WILLIAMS*, BLAKE*, GUNTER, LEDLEY, VAUGHAN, ALLEN*, KING, BALE*, MORISON

*One booking from a suspension

KO 7pm, Gradski Stadium. TV Sky Sports 2. Referee A Tudor (Rom). Odds: Cro 2-7 D 4-1 Wal 10-1. Suspended: Croa Vukojevic. Wales Collins, Ramsey

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