CHRIS Coleman knows Wales are on the brink of making history and the head coach yesterday warned Cyprus to forget about attempting to bully Gareth Bale.
Cyprus employed strong-arm tactics to try to curb Bale when Wales beat them 2-1 in Euro 2016 qualifying in Cardiff 11 months ago, picking up five bookings on a night when Coleman’s side were reduced to ten men after Andy King’s dangerous second-half challenge.
And Coleman expects Cyprus to make it just as hard for them in Nicosia on tonight when Group B leaders Wales hope to take a massive step towards qualifying for their first major finals since 1958, although they did reach the European Championship semi-finals in 1976.
“They gave him [Bale] a little bit and Cyprus are going to do what they’ve got to do to get a result,” Coleman said.
“But Gareth’s a strong boy and he knows how to ride a tackle. He can’t see everyone coming, but if he gets a clump I expect the referee – whether it’s in Wales or in Cyprus – to deal with it accordingly.
“We’re not asking for special treatment, we just want normal treatment.”
Coleman believes his key player is not easily intimidated. He cited the case of John Brown yesterday, recalling how the former Dundee and Rangers player made some fairly blunt comments about Bale ahead of Scotland’s World Cup qualifer against Wales in 2013. “I remember going to Scotland and an ex-Scottish player [John Brown] said: ‘He can’t play if he hasn’t got any legs’.
“That’s fine if you want to try to go and kick him, as long as the referee sees that and deals with it we’ll play against nine men or ten men, but in the last couple of years we’ve never been bullied.”
Wales had to hang on for victory in Cardiff after King’s rash challenge on Cyprus midfielder Constantinos Makridis forced them to play the final 42 minutes with ten men.
But Coleman felt Cyprus were fortunate to finish the game with a full complement of players after dishing out some rough treatment to Bale and company. “One of two of their challenges the boundaries weren’t stepped over, they were hopped over,” Coleman said.
“I was surprised we came off the pitch with one man less than Cyprus and it wasn’t ten v ten by the end of the game.
“They’ll make it difficult for us again, but why should they make it easy? But we’ll just concentrate on what we want to do.”
Wales know victories in Cyprus and at home to Israel on Sunday will realise their qualifying dream and book their ticket to next summer’s European Championship in France.
Coleman’s side top the section with 14 points from six games and talisman Bale, who has scored five of Wales’ seven goals in qualifying, comes into the game on a high after his brace in Real Madrid’s 5-0 victory over Real Betis last weekend.
“You see Cristiano Ronaldo performing for Portugal and what it means to him every game, it’s the same with Baley,” Coleman said.
“The excitement on his face when he shows up for every game and that’s all positive when in the past we’ve had negative thoughts when maybe this player or that player hasn’t turned up because it doesn’t mean enough to them.
“I don’t think you could ever say that to Baley.”