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World Cup: Football - Bale on a mission as Qatar countdown begins

Gareth Bale has revealed he's on a carefully tailored fitness plan in order to be in tip-top shape for Wales at the World Cup come November.

Even though he is now 33 years old, Bale is still his country's best player and, having finally helped the Dragons qualify for the global showpiece for the first time in the modern era, Bale seems determined to ensure he is in the best possible shape for Qatar.

Now in Los Angeles

In comments that may have raised an eyebrow from fans had he been still plying his club trade in one of Europe's top leagues, Bale admitted he has deliberately not yet played a full 90 minutes for MLS side Los Angeles FC since joining them in June because he is trying to build his fitness up slowly.

It's interesting that Bale opted for a move to the US to prolong his club career this summer, even though he would likely have had interest from Premier League clubs, after a relatively successful spell back on loan at Tottenham from Real Madrid in the 2020-21 campaign.

Calculated move?

It seems it was a calculated move for the former Southampton youngster to make the switch to LA, where he knows the pressure will not be on him to perform to his previous high standards week-in, week-out, and he also knows he will be afforded favours by coaching staff just delighted he's there.

It looks like he's privately made it clear that international football is now his overwhelming priority as he reaches the climax of what's been a glittering career.

Speaking ahead of Wales' Nations League clash in Belgium on Thursday, when Bale is again likely to be restricted to a second-half cameo role, Bale revealed how he is working on a carefully-structured fitness plan to ensure he's at his best when the World Cup begins for Wales on 21st November.

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'Being clever'

He said: "We have a plan in LA with what we're doing. We're not doing too much straight away. Every footballer wants to play as much as they can, but we're being clever and building myself up for the last important part of the season.

"Hopefully that should put me in great shape for the World Cup. I think I'll be a lot fitter. I haven't played 90 minutes yet, which is what I'm building up to."

Bale has attracted criticism from some parts for his apparent indifferent approach to club football in recent years and he fell out with former Real boss Zinedine Zidane at the Bernabeu, while fans also turned against him at times due to a perceived unwillingness to give his all for Los Blancos.

Bale will rightly point out the trophies he helped the Spanish giants win while in Madrid as a counter-argument and his stunning overhead kick goal in the 2018 Champions League Final victory over Liverpool remains somewhat strangely forgotten - despite the fact it is one of greatest individual goals ever in such a high-profile club game.

Prolific for Wales

Back home, there are no critics. His commitment to Wales remains absolute and he demonstrated his importance to the team again in the summer when scoring the winner against Ukraine to seal their World Cup place. Bale, who is comfortably Wales' all-time leading scorer with 40 goals from 106 caps, appears to be preparing himself to make a big impact in Qatar.

However, it will only be worth it if he manages to lead his country to at least the quarter-finals this winter. That may seem a tad unfair on a nation who have only just qualified for their second World Cup but there is a reason they are as short as 11/10 to qualify from the group and are modestly valued at just 11/2 to reach the last eight.

Plenty of Wales fans will just be delighted to be involved but for a country ranked 19th in the world, should they be setting their sights higher? Bale's approach seems to suggest he personally is.

England clash on horizon

Remember, this is a team that surpassed all expectations to make it to the last four in their first-ever Euros and one that should be targeting finishing ahead of Iran and USA in Group B - which of course also tantalisingly includes England - before then going deeper into what could be an unpredictable tournament.

Bale knows he will be another couple of years older when the next major international tournament comes along - and Wales may struggle to qualify for Euro 2024 anyway - so he is aware this is the chance of a lifetime to finally mix it with the world's best players on the biggest stage of all.

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