Bale is a class apart from his team-mates, but his virtuoso display against Scotland gives Wales something to build on
The lottery of the birthplace adds intrigue to international football. Great players can be introduced to humility should they happen to be attached to a country of slender sporting means, but sometimes they create moments of greatness that will live on for decades in the minds of their countrymen. The topic resonated again when Gareth Bale did so much on Friday to ensure that Wales could defeat Scotland 2-1 in their World Cup qualifier.
He was easily the most influential figure, even if he had to work extremely hard until his virtuosity could tell on faltering opponents. The chaos in Scottish minds, as they tried to protect the 1-0 lead established by James Morrison was reflected in the fact that Shaun Maloney should make contact with Bale, leaving the Tottenham midfielder to convert the penalty in the 81st minute.
The details of that goal speak of disorder, if not panic. Maloney, an attacking player, is scarcely associated with potent tackles, let alone the sort made inside the penalty area that call for particular finesse. Anyone in the ranks, however, would have been fearful of attempting to challenge Bale, if only because the outcome might well have been a blow to his pride.
Permitting him scope, however, was also ruinous. In the 89th minute Bale put that raking drive beyond the goalkeeper Allan McGregor to present Wales with all three points. With a trip to Croatia before them, Chris Coleman's squad will now have to revert to a sober tone after the celebrations that greeted a first win in five games for the manager. Defender Darcy Blake, who was a part of Wales's rise up the Fifa rankings under Gary Speed, said: "It was good to get back to winning ways, it was a good performance as well. We were passing the ball and full of confidence again. I thought we deserved to win. We created a lot of chances. It was a sloppy goal we conceded, but we got stronger and Gareth Bale popped up with our winner at the end. He causes defenders all kinds of problems, he's up there with the world's best. He was on it in this game, he put that goal in and it was brilliant."
With the euphoria starting to dissipate, it will be remembered that the single appearance by Wales at a major tournament came in the 1958 World Cup. Outstanding footballers such as Bale are never so crass as to lament the fact that they were born into a country that has few, if any, team-mates remotely capable of performing with the same accomplishment.
The examples come to mind all too readily. George Best, Jim Baxter and Ryan Giggs, for instance, never took the stage in the finals of a grand, international tournament. Wales' current players will, by now, be reflecting on the more severe tasks before them. The squad has three points from three games, just one more than Scotland.
It would be remarkable if either had a role at the World Cup finals in Brazil, but there is little merit to hypothesising and number crunching for the time being. The home crowd took the outcome for what it was, an opportunity to relish a moment of deserved pride. Of Friday night it did not matter in the least that Craig Levein's Scotland team are 56th in the world rankings, with Wales on the perch below.
Levein will come under renewed pressure after his team failed to hang on to their lead, but not many teams can stop Bale when he's in this sort of mood.
He said: "I thought in the first half we coped with him reasonably well. We stopped him getting the ball. That was the plan, to stop him getting into dangerous areas and getting possession. In the second half, the longer the game went on at 1-0, he started to wander a bit, take up different positions on the field and that is more difficult to stop. But he is a fantastic player and he caused problems for us." The intriguing aspect of the game in Cardiff lay in the fact that spectators imbued it with meaning, which in turn galvanised the footballers. Bale's vigour surely drew on the noise and atmosphere. There is no sense in denying that these trips are a large element in the social life of those who make up the Tartan army, but it is folly to suppose that the matches are of secondary importance.
National sentiment runs deep and, in perverted form, wreaks havoc, but it also has the power to lift the game out of commercialism and greed. No major league will pull that off, nor even wish to do so. Friday's outcome may have little meaning in sporting terms, but it will reverberate in the minds of those who relish seeing footballers giving their all when vast bonuses and salaries are not on offer.