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Wales talisman should shine against Austria

World Cup qualifier
Sky Sports Football, 7.45pm Saturday

An exhilarating Euro 2016 left hopes high for Wales in their quest to qualify for next summer’s World Cup finals in Russia but the Dragons are finding victories hard to come by and overcoming Group D rivals Austria is far from a routine task.

Chris Coleman’s troops are still unbeaten during qualifying but five consecutive draws have left little margin for error and their performances have been lacklustre in comparison to the exploits that saw them reach the last four in France last summer.

Wales trail Group D’s leading two Serbia and Ireland by four points and with just four games to go the Dragons simply must rediscover the winning thread.

The return of talisman Gareth Bale from suspension will aid their chances and key midfielder Aaron Ramsey should be fit despite being forced off at half-time during Arsenal’s 4-0 drubbing to top-four rivals Liverpool.

But for one reason or another things haven’t gone to plan for Wales and elevated expectations may be a hindrance for Coleman’s men.

The Dragons were held to a 1-1 draw by Group D rivals Georgia at the Cardiff City Stadium before conceding a late equaliser against visiting Serbia (1-1) and punters should be cautious about backing the hosts at short prices.

Wales should offer stern resistance - they haven’t lost in 12 competitive matches on home soil - but they are still searching for the right combination going forward and anything they create is likely to have Bale at the fore.

The Real Madrid man has been involved in five of Wales' seven goals in World Cup qualifying, notching four times and providing one assist, and in a must-win game for both sides it may take a piece of individual brilliance to break the deadlock.

Bale is pivotal to Wales’ chances and he is one of only a few players who should thrive under the pressure. All four of his goals in qualifying have came in Cardiff and he may get plenty of opportunities to bolster that record against an Austrian side who have shipped five goals in just three road qualifiers.

Austria are level on points with Wales but something has to give and the injury to frontman Guido Burgstaller - who has notched nine goals in 17 appearances since arriving at Schalke - takes away a lot of their attacking quality.

A nervy night is expected in Cardiff and the individual class of Bale may prove the telling factor.

Recommendation
G Bale first goalscorer

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Cologne v Arsenal

Home Win Draw Away Win
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Expert verdict
Arsene Wenger has sent out his reserve players throughout this Europa League campaign and that's unlikely to change now Arsenal have secured their spot in the last 32. Cologne are having a shocking season so even a makeshift Gunners outfit could come out on top and Alex Iwobi, fresh from a double for Nigeria against Argentina, can notch first.