Wales’ World Cup prospects have taken a serious hit after its star player and all-time goal scorer Gareth Bale was ruled out for its two final qualifiers.
Wales is currently second in its group, trailing leaders Serbia by four points. Four points is also what Wales needs from its matches against Georgia and the Republic of Ireland in order to ensure the team remains in that second position.
Teams that finish second in their groups do not directly qualify for the World Cup. Instead, they earn a sport in a playoff match, the winner of which qualifies.
If Wales wins its playoff, the team would make only its second appearance in a World Cup in the country's history.
That crucial second position, however, is still highly contested. The Republic of Ireland trails Wales by only a point. The teams are set to meet in the final match of the group on Monday, 9 October. Their last encounter ended 0-0.
Bale's recent injury issues began after a hamstring complaint developed while playing for his club Real Madrid against Borussia Dortmund. He missed last Sunday’s game against Espanyol due to what manager Zinedine Zidane described as a continuing “small complaint” in his hamstring.
Despite his absence, which Zidane claimed was precautionary, Bale was allowed to join up with his national team.
"He could have played with us, but I preferred to leave him out,” said the Madrid manager. “He’s fine.”
He also claimed Bale’s problem was “not an injury.”
However, a scan Monday has reportedly led to the discovery of a second issue unrelated to his hamstring. The new issue appears to be a tear in the calf muscle, which may keep the Welshman out for a month.
Should the injury keep Bale out so long, he would miss several Real Madrid matches as well as the qualifiers, including a much anticipated Champions League encounter against his former club Tottenham on 17 October.
The Football Association of Wales confirmed reports of an injury but did not describe the nature of the injury. The association stated, "Following dialogue with Real Madrid, Bale was sent for a scan and results confirmed that he wouldn't be fit to feature.”
Despite being ranked 13th in the world, Wales has struggled during its World Cup campaign. After four draws in its group, first place appears out of reach despite Wales being favorites entering the competition.
With Bale out, Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey and Welsh captain Ashley Williams will be expected to step up to see the team through.
An opportunity may also arise for the teenage Liverpool forward Ben Woodburn, who has already impressed on the international stage, having scored the winning goal against Austria in September.