Wales manager Chris Coleman was not joking when, reflecting on the biggest attendance at the Cardiff City Stadium on Friday night, he noted that Gareth Bale had "probably sold 5,000 tickets on his own".
Bale is box office, though the 30,741 crowd for the goalless draw with Euro 2016 qualifying rivals Bosnia-Herzegovina underlined something else brought by the Cardiff kid who made it all the way to Real Madrid – namely the infectious belief that perhaps anything really can be possible. Even for Wales.
Not since Mark Hughes led the Welsh to the Euro 2004 qualifying play-offs has there been such hope of ending the long wait for a finals appearance dating back to the 1958 World Cup. Then Wales had John Charles of Juventus. Now it is Bale of the Bernabeu and even in one of his quieter performances on Friday night, he showed just why another wave of optimism will roll around Cardiff tomorrow as Coleman's men look to cement their position as Group B leaders with a victory over Cyprus.
As Coleman put it after the encouraging stalemate against a talented Bosnia side: "He may have had more productive games but he has so much ability and you know he can do nothing for 89 minutes and then – bang – he can do it."
It was Bale's late free-kick that earned Wales their opening win in Andorra and he so nearly repeated the trick on Friday with a brilliant injury-time strike foiled by the fingertips of Asmir Begovic. When you add late set-pieces that teed up Ashley Williams and Hal Robson-Kanu for clear headers that each missed, it highlighted his threat even when his overall impact was limited by an impressive shadowing job by Everton's Muhamed Besic.
"He can win a game even if he is having the worst night of his life and that is why the opposition have to worry about him," said Coleman, who also discussed the 25-year-old's new-found role as a leader in the dressing room. "He said to the other players afterwards, 'This is what we need to do as a team, that's what it is all about'. He has matured and is a leader for us now. He has had 12 months in the spotlight where he is scrutinised every day, but he has grown into it."
It is not just Bale who stirs hope that "this is our turn", as goalkeeper Wayne Hennessy put it. The Crystal Palace reserve keeper made a string of excellent second-half saves against Bosnia to embody the impressive resilience in a squad missing key men like Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen. "We've got quality players now, dangerous players," said Hennessey, adding: "You've only got to look at Balo – he's ridiculous."
Looking ahead to tomorrow, Bale acknowledged that Cyprus "beat Bosnia so they are no slouches" but added that "we're a very different team now" than the one beaten 3-1 by the Cypriots in a European Championship qualifier on 13 October 2007. And he cited an additional factor in Wales's favour: a Cardiff crowd that refound its voice on Friday night. "In another game, we might not have got across the line to get that vital point. They really got behind us."
The Cardiff City Stadium will be less full on a Monday night but Bale is urging the Welsh public to keep behind their team. "If the crowd keep turning up in those numbers and we can keep on performing like that, we can go a long way," he said. "We want all these fans here again. When you have a full stadium, it intimidates the other team and can [influence] refereeing decisions at times. We want to make it a fortress."Reuse content