Gareth Bale is set to achieve “probably the biggest honour” of his celebrated career when Wales end their 64-year wait to play at the World Cup on Monday.
Wales will start their campaign against the United States at Doha’s Ahmad bin Ali Stadium without the injured Joe Allen.
But Bale, a five-time Champions League winner at former club Real Madrid, is set to grace the stage his ability has so richly deserved and that he has craved on a personal level for so long.
Bale, Wales’ record scorer, has fired the Dragons to the last two European Championships – including a semi-final appearance in 2016 – and will lead them out for their first World Cup appearance since a 1958 quarter-final defeat by Brazil.
He said: “It’s probably the biggest honour we could have for our country to qualify for a World Cup, something we have not done for 64 years.
“Schools are going to stop to watch our games. It’s one of those moments which is a massive piece of history, something we have wanted.
“We have the support of the nation back home, no matter what happens. As long as we give 100 per cent our country will love us for that.”
Bale, 33, said his first memory of the World Cup was France 98 when “I had this pencil case with the logo on it”.
He said: “In terms of watching World Cups, it was always a little bit disappointing because Wales weren’t there. As a kid not having your country in the World Cup does take that little bit of specialness away.
“To be in the team that actually got us over the line is an incredible feeling. Everybody has dreamt of it for such a long time, we’ve had so many close calls.
“Most importantly, the best thing was to grow football in Wales and inspire another generation, to get more kids playing football.
“By doing that we’ll hopefully have a stronger national team in the future and, hopefully, someone will be sitting here in 20 years saying we have inspired them.”
Ethan Ampadu is set to be pushed forward from his defensive station to fill Allen’s midfield role, with Chris Mepham coming into a back three alongside Joe Rodon and Ben Davies.
Swansea midfielder Allen has not played since September 17 because of hamstring trouble and boss Robert Page said: “We said from the start, we’re going to give every possible chance that we can to get him to play that first game.
“He’s probably not going to make it. We could have pushed him, maybe, but if he breaks down then he’s definitely out of the tournament.
“Risk over reward. Yes, we’d have liked him available for the first game, but we’re not going to push him to the point of completely losing him.”
Page said he has attended a World Cup referees’ meeting and is concerned that 6ft 5in striker Kieffer Moore will collect yellow cards in the tournament.
He said: “He’s naturally going to pick bookings up. There’s not a nasty bone in his body.
“He’s a giant of a man, but he never intentionally elbows somebody. One game we had to ask him to jump without using his arms. We can’t do that.”