Gareth Bale insists Wales can overcome the loss of Aaron Ramsey from their opening Euro 2020 qualifier and aim for top spot in Group E.
Ramsey was ruled out on the eve of the Cardiff clash against Slovakia on Sunday with a thigh injury that the Arsenal midfielder has been nursing all week.
But Bournemouth forward David Brooks has shrugged off an ankle injury, and Bale has declared himself fully fit after completing his first 90 minutes of 2019 for Real Madrid last weekend.
“Obviously it’s a big blow for us,” Bale said of Ramsey’s absence. “He’s a big player for us and we’ll obviously miss him.
“But it gives someone else a chance to step in and do a good job, and hopefully help the team to a win.
“I am fully fit and ready to go. I am enjoying being here and I am excited for the new campaign.”
Bale has had a difficult time in Madrid this season with fans turning on him as Real crashed out of the Champions League and Copa del Rey, while trailing badly behind LaLiga leaders Barcelona.
But Bale has still scored 16 goals for club and country and dismissed the notion that he has had several injuries this season.
“I have only had one injury,” he said. “I have been fine and playing.
“I’ve scored a decent amount of goals and I am raring to go.
“I want to keep doing as much as I can to help the (Wales) team and so does every player.
“So I certainly don’t feel the pressure to produce. I just want to go out there, give my best for my country, score goals, create goals, defend, whatever I can to help the team.”
Wales reached the semi-finals of the last European Championships in 2016 under Chris Coleman.
But Ryan Giggs’ side are already playing catch-up in their group after sitting out the first round of matches on Thursday.
Slovakia beat Hungary 2-0 at home and top seeds Croatia also got off to a winning start, beating Azerbaijan 2-1.
“Everybody knows how difficult it is to qualify, we have only done it twice in our history and maybe once correctly,” said Bale, referring to Wales’ qualification for the 1958 World Cup through the play-offs.
“All the youngsters know what it means, what it takes to do it.
“We have watched videos of the last qualifying campaign to relive what it was like.
“We know it’s going to be difficult, we know it’s a hard group, but we are all prepared to give everything on that pitch for the jersey.
“We are always the underdogs, but there’s no reason why we can’t go on and win the group.”
Bale will win his 75th cap against Slovakia but, as he pointed four months short of his 30th birthday, he is now Wales’ longest-serving player with his debut coming as far back as May 2006.
Giggs’ biggest dilemma is filling the void left by Ramsey and finding the right balance in midfield and attack.
Tyler Roberts started the last two Nations League games against the Republic of Ireland and Denmark, while Harry Wilson and Swansea flier Daniel James are both in good form.
Liverpool striker Ben Woodburn could also come into the equation after the scoring the winner in Wednesday’s friendly against Trinidad & Tobago.
“Ben’s had a tricky 18 months or so but he’s a talent,” Giggs said.
“Someone who can express himself, somebody you would pay to see.
“I have seen a difference and a lift from him, which is what you want going into this game.”
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