This is Wales' first World Cup in Bale's lifetime and he talks about his childhood memories of the competition being tainted because his country weren't there. But he's hopeful after leading Wales to their first qualification since 1958 that there will be youngsters at home watching the games against the USA, Iran -- who they face on Friday – and England and be inspired to follow in his footsteps.
"As a kid I dreamt of seeing Wales at a World Cup but to actually be in the team that achieved it is an incredible feeling and it's an honour to be able to do it for the country," said Bale. "For the youngsters growing up now, to have Wales in the World Cup, even if they don't realise it now, it's an incredible experience for them to have. It's one I wish that I'd had.
"By doing what we've done, hopefully we're going to have a strong national team in the future and in 20 years' time they're sitting where I am now saying that Wales qualifying for the World Cup in 2022 was what inspired them to play football and to love it."
Bale, a five-time winner of the Champions League while at Real Madrid, has done as much as anyone to make football in his country relevant again. Wales' last great player, Ryan Giggs, was regularly criticised for putting his club, Manchester United, before his country and despite making his international debut as a teenager in 1991, he didn't play a friendly fixture until 2000. Giggs' decisions around non-competitive games were heavily influenced by then United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who wanted to keep his star players as fit as possible, but at times it created a feeling that Welsh football didn't matter, particularly with many in Wales already considering rugby union to be their national sport.
Giggs played 963 times for United during a career which spanned 23 years but only made 64 appearances for Wales. In contrast, when Bale starts against Iran at Al Rayyan Stadium, he will win his 110th cap. He will hope to add a few more in Qatar by making it out of the group, just as Wales did at the European Championship in 2016 -- their first major tournament for 58 years -- and the Euros in 2020, played in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.