Wales vs Austria. FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Play-off Semi-finals.
Cardiff City StadiumAttendance32,053.
Free highlights and match report as Gareth Bale puts doubts about his fitness to one side to score two sensational goals to send Wales through; next up for Wales is a play-off final with the winner of Scotland and Ukraine
Friday 25 March 2022 08:30, UK
Wales moved one step closer to their first World Cup since 1958 as Gareth Bale stole the show in a 2-1 win over Austria in the play-off semi-final.
Bale scored both of Wales' goals - the first a quite majestic free-kick from 25 yards on 25 minutes that flew into the top corner before smashing home a clinical second on 51 minutes.
Marcel Sabitzer gave the home fans a nervy last quarter to endure when striking home a deflected effort but Bale's decisive double was enough to keep the World Cup dream alive.
Wales are attempting to qualify for a third major tournament in their last four attempts, however, they have not reached World Cup for 64 years, failing in their last 15 attempts to qualify.
Wales:Hennessey (7), Roberts (7), Ampadu (7), Rodon (8), B Davies (8), N Williams (8), Allan (8), Ramsey (8), Wilson (8), Bale (9), James (7)
Austria:Linder (6), Dragovic (6), Alaba (7), Hinteregger (6), Lainer (6), Laimer (6), Schlager (6), Sabitzer (7), Seiwald (6), Baumgartner (6), Arnautovic (5)
Man of the match:Gareth Bale
A World Cup play-off final against Scotland or Ukraine awaits Wales now, although this has been put on hold until June because of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. What is certain is that Wales will be involved in next Friday's World Cup draw, so they will know their potential path and opponents.
"You're just to be good to be true, can't take my eyes off of you," rang out at the Cardiff City Stadium at full-time. A very apt backdrop as Bale led the celebrations around the pitch.
Bale came into the game with doubts over his fitness after missing Sunday's El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona. He also knew that, with his 33rd birthday fast approaching, this year's World Cup acts as the last chance of him appearing on football's biggest stage. The same could be said for Aaron Ramsey, who machine-like in the midfield.
Bale has not even played 100 minutes of football since August - most would assume he's been on the golf course. They would be wrong. He has been practising his free-kicks, in appreciation that an opportunity like the one with 25 minutes on the clock would present itself to him. He was ready to deliver. More than ready. With one swish of his left boot, the ball was sent rocketing straight into the top corner, shaving the bar on the way through for added drama. It was a moment those inside the stadium will do well to forget. The pace, the power, the trajectory - and the celebrations.
It was a goal you could watch on repeat, day after day and never get bored of. Bale's explosion of joy, full of frustration no doubt over how things have ended for him in Madrid shows there is still plenty of life left in his legs.
There was more to come. The all-important second goal was half a chance but the way Bale stroked it into the top corner made it look like a gilt-edged one. A pure instinct finish.
He refused to talk about where he'll be playing his football next season in the build-up to this game as that picture remains unclear. What is certain, there will be plenty of offers from some of Europe's biggest clubs after this performance.
Speaking after the game Bale said the press headlines in Spain that took a swipe at him were "disgusting.".
Spanish media outlets had criticised Bale after he linked up with Wales having been absent for Real Madrid for the El Clasico match at the weekend.
Spanish newspaper Marca ran the image of a happy looking Bale and Joe Rodon in Welsh training gear alongside the headline "It doesn't hurt anymore."
Bale was also called a "parasite" by a journalist for Marca.
Bale's celebration for the first goal was full of emotion as he looked to be sending a message to some of his doubters by mouthing words into the camera.
He explained the celebration after the game, as he was asked if he was sending a specific message and to who. Bale said to Sky Sports: "I don't need to send a message, honestly. It's a waste of my time. It's disgusting and they should also be ashamed of themselves. I'm not fussed. End of."
On the game itself, Bale said: "It was a massive game. We knew coming into it how big a game it was and we had to perform. We had to dig deep and look at our experience in big games and it's a perfect scenario.
"I had some cramp at the end which I guess is normal but I'll run into the ground for this country and we all did that tonight.
"It's fantastic. Half the job done. The good thing now is that we can enjoy tonight because the game is in June. Still another very tough game against either Scotland or Ukraine and we'll be ready for that when it comes."
By the end of March, we will know 29 of the 32 participants at the first winter World Cup. The final three places will be decided in the intercontinental playoffs in June as well as the final European playoff final which has been delayed due to the Ukraine-Russia crisis. So, the draw will include Wales and Scotland.
The draw for the tournament takes place on Friday 1 April at the DECC venue in Doha, Qatar at circa 4pm GMT.
The 2022 World Cup is taking place in Qatar in the winter months rather than the usual summer ones, due to the heat.
The tournament kicks off on Monday November 21 at the Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor with a match that will feature the host country.
The final will be played at the Lusail Stadium in Doha a week before Christmas on Sunday December 18.