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Bale injury could prove costly for Welsh hopes

World Cup qualifier
Sky Sports Football & Main Event, 5pm Friday


Gareth Bale has spearheaded a resurgence from the Wales national team over the last few years but he is unavailable for the rest of the Group D campaign, starting with a vital clash against Georgia in Tbilisi which could be heading for a stalemate.

Wales are targeting six points from their final two group games (they finish off with Monday's clash at home to Ireland) to give them the best chance of reaching the playoffs as one of the eight best second-placed teams.

They were originally odds-on (as short as 4-7) to start off with a victory over Georgia but after the extent of Bale's calf injury was revealed on Tuesday they were shunted out to odds-against.

Bale has scored three goals during qualifying and hasn't been as influential as he was the road to Euro 2016 when he scored seven goals in ten appearances. But his presence always attracts defenders and makes it easier for his teammates to find space.

Bale is a team player and did some vital defensive work during the crucial 1-0 success over Austria.

But Wales's star player in last month's matches was 17-year-old Ben Woodburn, who came off the bench to make matchwinning contributions against Austria and Moldova.

Woodburn's stunning goal against Austria was the stuff of dreams but perhaps more impressive was his superb assist he provided for Hal Robson-Kanu's opening goal in the 2-0 win against Moldova which he produced when Wales seemed to be wilting under the pressure.

Chris Coleman has been reluctant to play Woodburn from the start but must be sorely tempted to throw the Liverpool teenager in at the deep end for a contest which Wales have to try to win.

Robson-Kanu, recalled to the starting line-up against Moldova, will also be under consideration but there is no getting away from the fact that Wales, without Bale, are a far less potent side.

Georgia held a Welsh side including Bale to a 1-1 draw in Cardiff last October and have caught the eye on several occasions, despite failing to win any of their eight games.

Last month the Georgians did Wales a massive favour by drawing 1-1 with Ireland in Tbilisi and they followed up with another 1-1 draw in Vienna which killed off any lingering hopes Austria had of reaching the finals.

Against Ireland they dominated possession (74 per cent) and shaded the shot count 12-11 but often looked uncertain when put under pressure and goalkeeper Giorgi Makaridze was caught in no mans land when Shane Duffy headed the Irish in front from a well-worked set-piece.

Georgia were also wasteful in front of goal and will need to improve in both boxes if they are to make the most of their technical skills and join the teams pushing for major tournament qualification on a regular basis.

However, they have earned draws against three of the qualification hopefuls (Wales, Ireland and Austria) and can pick up another point against a Welsh side reeling from the loss of their talisman.

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