Gareth bales out as injury leaves Wales weaker
From the Bernabeu to Barnsley is the story from the Welsh camp ahead of their World Cup double header after their talisman Gareth Bale withdrew from Chris Coleman's squad.
The Welsh face Georgia in Tbilisi on Friday before they host Ireland at a sold-out Cardiff City Stadium on Monday, but the Real Madrid man will play no part in the qualifiers, a consequence of an initial injury sustained while on Champions League duty with Real and then a follow-up calf problem.
"The Football Association of Wales can confirm that Gareth Bale will miss the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Republic of Ireland," said a statement from the Wales FA.
"Bale - who missed Real Madrid's game against Espanyol on Sunday - arrived with the rest of the Wales squad on Sunday and attended Monday's annual FAW Awards dinner at the team headquarters in Cardiff.
"But following dialogue with Real Madrid, Bale was sent for a scan and results confirmed that he wouldn't be fit to feature. Barnsley striker Tom Bradshaw will now join up with the rest of the squad later."
The fact that the man who comes in for Bale plays for Barnsley, a side seventh from bottom in the Championship table, could be a sign of their weakness although Ireland are not in a position to be sniffy about Barnsley boys coming in to play in the World Cup qualifiers: two members of this Irish squad play for a club (Sunderland) which is below the Tykes in the Championship table.
Bale's absence is a blow for the locals in Tbilisi as they had hoped to see the Champions League winner play there on Friday, though Georgia have problems of their own for that tie: Tornike Okriashvili, who scored against Ireland in the Republic's narrow win in Tbilisi in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, and Jano Ananidze, the man of the match in Ireland's 1-1 draw in Tbilisi last month, are both out.
News of Bale's injury reached the Irish camp as the squad were about to train in Dublin yesterday but the boys in green are trying to restrain their glee at his absence.
"It is what it is. We know how good he is but they are still going to be a good team without him and it doesn't change anything for us - we know we have to win," says Daryl Murphy of Bale's absence.
Wales are clearly a better side with Bale in it that without him. Bale has a superb attendance record for the national team, in contrast to some 'greats' of the past with Wales who regularly had a dose of the sniffles in the lead-up to a friendly game, or a qualifier in some far-off and inhospitable spot in Europe, which forced them to miss the game yet the same player was still fit enough to play for his club days later.
Bale has missed just one competitive game for the national team in the last four years and even in his absence, in Belgrade last summer, the side coped but could have done better with him.
It's unclear if Bale will hang around the Welsh camp to offer support to his team-mates, with Irish players admitting that the sight of Seamus Coleman, albeit still injured, lifted their spirits when he came into camp last month.
Ireland have missed Seamus Coleman, missed him badly, but it looks like Chris Coleman will feel the absence of Gareth Bale even more this week.