Chris Coleman last night insisted Gareth Bale is fully focused on delivering another towering display for Wales at the end of one of the most challenging weeks of his Real Madrid career.
Bale will, as always, be a key figure for Coleman when his side go in search of victory over Group B leaders Israel in Haifa tonight. But the Wales manager would certainly have preferred his star forward to have had a more settled build-up to this crucial Euro 2016 qualifier.
Having come in for severe criticism in the Spanish press, Bale found himself under further attack when Real fans kicked and hit his car as he left the club’s training ground after the El Clasico defeat to Barcelona at the Nou Camp on Sunday night.
However, Coleman is adamant he has seen no signs of any impact on Bale’s morale and revealed his club’s name has not crossed the lips of the world’s most expensive player all week.
“I cannot see any difference in Gareth at all,” said Coleman. “If I thought it was bothering him – and I know things like that can bother you and get you down – and it was affecting him, we would have sat down and talked about it.
“But he has not mentioned Real Madrid, we have only talked about Wales and this game,” he added. “He is happy, relaxed and, most important of all, fit.”
Captain Ashley Williams, who will win his 50th cap this evening, echoed his manager’s tone. “He hasn’t been out of form for a while from our point of view,” said the Swansea City defender. “He has done what the coaches have asked of him this week and what the team need him to do.”
Three points on the Haifa waterfront would further enhance the current Welsh crop’s hopes of finally reaching a first major finals since 1958, and securing their places in history alongside the likes of John Charles, Cliff Jones and Ivor Allchurch.
But Israel are in similarly buoyant mood, having opened their own campaign with three consecutive victories to sit top of the group, one point ahead of Wales, who have played a game more.
Their unexpected surge to the top of the standings, which included a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Bosnia, means the recently-opened Sammy Ofer Stadium is expected to be packed to its 30,000 capacity.
It will make for an intimidating and hostile atmosphere, and one in which Coleman fears the home side may try to influence Serbian referee Milorad Mazic.
Coleman has warned his players they must use their top-level domestic experience and retain their composure. “The difference coming here, and the difference in international football, is we have to put up with a bit of play-acting, simulation,” he said.
“The crowd and the atmosphere will be right behind them and it will be hostile. But most of our lads play in front of 50,000 or 60,000 fans every week.
“The spotlight in the Premier League, the media in the Premier League, it doesn’t get bigger than handling that pressure and most of our players are used to it and need to use that experience.”Reuse content