Wales have been dealt a major blow in their quest to reach next summer’s World Cup finals in Russia after Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale was ruled out of their crunch qualifiers against Georgia and Republic of Ireland.
Despite assurances from his club manager Zinedine Zidane that Bale would be fit for international duty, a scan has revealed a calf strain which could sideline the 28-year-old for up to a month.
Wales are currently second in Group D and in contention to seal one of the eight best runners-up spots across the European pools, which would guarantee them a place in the play-offs to reach the tournament proper.
Bale’s absence is a considerable setback for Wales, who are four points adrift of group leaders Serbia but only one clear of Republic of Ireland – their opponents in Cardiff on Monday.
Chris Coleman’s side are likely to require in the region of four points from the two matches to ensure finishing in second place.
Wales’s initial concern is a clash with Georgia in Tbilisi on Friday as they bid to qualify for their first World Cup since 1958. Barnsley striker Tom Bradshaw has been called into the squad as cover for Bale.