Robert Earnshaw has told the United States to beware a wounded Gareth Bale in their World Cup opener with Wales.
Wales’ first game at a World Cup for 64 years on Monday will see Bale come up against the country where he now plays his club football for Los Angeles FC.
Bale came off the bench to help LAFC to their first MLS Cup triumph, scoring a dramatic injury-time equaliser against Philadelphia Union to set up a successful penalty shootout.
But the start of the 33-year-old’s career in California has been hampered by injuries and the lack of game-time that marked his final years at Real Madrid.
Bale started only two matches after making his debut in July, leading some LAFC fans to question his commitment to the club.
“He’s had a little bit of stick and you expect that,” former Wales striker Earnshaw told the PA news agency.
“They are passionate people and want to see him play so much. It was such a bombshell transfer, completely unexpected, and it excited everyone.
“He’s not been in the best health where he’s absolutely ready to go, and he’s had to build himself and his fitness up.
“But he’s been looking at the World Cup, which is understandable, and I think he’ll be ready to go when it starts.
— Gareth Bale (@GarethBale11) November 6, 2022
“You’ve seen flashes of the top Gareth Bale in the MLS, and he is capable of the highest amount of magic on a football pitch with his left foot.”
Earnshaw knows what Wales will be up against in Doha as he spent the tail end of his career in North America.
The 59-times capped forward played for Toronto, Chicago Fire and Vancouver Whitecaps and saw the rapid development of football Stateside.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) November 5, 2022
“They’ve got some good players and they’ve been building up to this World Cup like us,” Earnshaw said at the Football Association of Wales McDonald’s Grassroots Football Awards.
“Normally their best players have been older and playing at big clubs. What they have now is young players at very good clubs in Europe.
“But they’ve not really played major tournament football, where they’ve been able to pick up and take in the experience to lead into this World Cup.
— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) November 17, 2022
“For a lot of them it’s going to be their bow, their first time where the world is watching.
“It’s very different when it comes to major tournaments and the pressure is on, and that’s where Wales may have the edge.”
The US stumbled through CONCACAF qualifying, finishing behind Canada and Mexico and edging out Costa Rica on goal difference for the final automatic spot.
But Gregg Berhalter’s side possesses plenty of talent with Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic, Leeds pair Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams and Borussia Dortmund’s Gio Reyna among their ranks.
Earnshaw said: “The first game is huge. When I look at the group we have to go for two wins – and that might be England by the way.
“England have got good players but they are beatable as Hungary and others showed us in the Nations League.
“We’ve got to hit the ground running and I just hope we are not tentative.
“The US are are a dangerous team but I definitely fancy us if everybody is fit, especially Bale and Aaron Ramsey.”
:: Robert Earnshaw was speaking at the annual Welsh FA Grassroots Awards in partnership with McDonald’s Fun Football. The awards recognise volunteers who are dedicated to making a real difference to community football in Wales.