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Gareth Bale

Stop Bale, stop Wales - Irish hopes hinge on nullifying Real Madrid star

01:24 GMT+3 24/03/2017
Gareth Bale Wales Georgia 09102016
The Boys in Green come up against one of the world's greatest players and must do everything in their power to stop him having an impact


International breaks can be challenging for players, with many finding it difficult to be away from their families for a week or two at a time.

The routine of joining up with the squad is very repetitive, staying in hotels, training, hanging out with team-mates. Often, the only thing that's a little different is the press conferences.

However, this week, every single Republic of Ireland press conference was the exact same, regardless of which player or staff member was in front of the microphone.

How can Ireland stop Gareth Bale? What is Ireland's plan for Bale? What is it like to play against the Real Madrid superstar?

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As far as the media are concerned, Wales only has one player. The Irish management team and players tried to play down Bale's importance, but all their answers carried a worried tone about the problems he poses.

"You have to just get on with it. When you're playing in the Premier League, whether it's against [Sergio] Aguero, [Harry] Kane, [Romelu] Lukaku, [Diego] Costa, there are top players there," Sunderland defender John O'Shea told reporters.

"The team has to get on with it. If you focus too much on one player, you forget about their other good players and they come to the fore.

"You respect him - obviously he's a very good player, he's playing for Real Madrid - but you forget about that and you get on with it to do your best against him."

Seamus Coleman compared Bale's position in Chris Coleman's side to Zlatan Ibrahimovic's for Sweden at the European Championship.

Ireland drew 1-1 with Sweden at Euro 2016, with a Ciaran Clark own goal going into the record books as Sweden's tally. However, the goal was pure Ibrahimovic, forcing the defender into the mistake which gave the Scandinavian side a point.

Like Ibrahimovic, Bale is a player capable of winning games, winning points and scoring goals. Despite what the Ireland captain may argue.

“He is a player from I really enjoy watching and you want to see him do well, but not this week," Coleman said.

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“You can’t get too bogged down with one player. We had the same experience in the summer with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Wales have a lot of good players. We can’t just focus on Gareth Bale. As professionals we can’t look at it like that.”

But focus on Bale is what Ireland must do. The 27-year-old scored in each of Wales' group games at Euro 2016, and has been just as prolific in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Of all the teams who have scored five or more goals in qualifying, only four teams are more reliant on key men than Wales and Bale. Dusan Tadic has been involved in 89 per cent of Serbia's goals, Andriy Yarmolenko 71 per cent for Ukraine, Robert Lewandowski has contributed in 70 per cent of Poland's goals, and Stevan Jovetic is Montenegro's main hope with a 67 per cent involvement.

Of Wales' eight goals so far, Bale has scored four and assisted another - 62.5 per cent of their total goals. Only two other Welsh players have scored in the current campaign.

Aside from being involved in the goals themselves, Bale is involved in everything for the Dragons. Which players have the most tackles so far for Coleman's side? Centre-back James Chester and attacker Bale.

When he's not scoring goals, he's creating chances for his team-mates. Only Joe Ledley has created more opportunities in the four qualifiers so far.

Wales' all-time leading goalscorer Ian Rush even knows how important the former Tottenham wideman is to his side's chances of victory in any game.

So much so, that Rush expects Ireland manager Martin O'Neill to plan his gameplan around the £85 million superstar.

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"It's massive for Wales that Bale is there after his injury problems," Rush told RTE .

"He's been the most improved player in the world over the last couple of years and, as we've seen many times before, he is capable of winning a game with a moment of magic.

"Martin O'Neill is a very cautious manager and will do everything he can to stop Wales counter-attacking the Republic. But it is almost impossible to keep someone of Gareth's ability quiet for 90 minutes."

Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane has a plan to stop Bale, joking that the Boys in Green must "hit him" and be sure to tackle him at every opportunity.

He plays down the fact that this is Ireland's strategy for Friday, but worries that even that may not be enough to prevent the 27-year-old having an impact.

"Bale is a world class player,” said Keane. "What you find is that players and coaches have tried to come up with a plan [to stop him] before, but top players figure it out and affect the game anyway. Bale has done that for a number of years on the big occasions.

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“The basic advice to any player if you’re up against a word class player: somebody get to him, get to him as quick as you can, don’t let him get his head up like he does at Real Madrid. Don’t give him space in behind because the boy can run. Tackle him. Hit him... fairly. Tackling is part of the bloody game.”

Keane was asked was that what he would have done against Bale, replying: “he might have been more worried about me. I could play a little bit too you know, I didn’t just kick people.”

The Ireland of 2017 do not have a player of Keane's calibre. Unlike Wales, they have no superstars. In fact, the only members of the current squad who featured in the Champions League this season were Preston duo Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle who lined out for Dundalk in the qualifying stages.

A win over Wales can put Ireland seven points clear of their neighbours at the half-way stage of qualification. But the only way to do that is to stop the one thing that separates the two sides - world class forward Gareth Bale.