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Gareth Bale hopes fresh start at Real Madrid proves boost for Wales

Gareth Bale said he was reaping the rewards of a better environment at Real Madrid after featuring prominently under Carlo Ancelotti in the buildup to Wales’s World Cup qualifiers.

Wales play Belarus in Russia on Sunday after the game was moved to Kazan because they are unable to fly into Minsk because of sanctions. Bale joked he was surprised Uefa did not pick Wembley as a neutral venue for the game because “everything else seems to be there”.

On a more serious note, the captain made clear he would support his teammates by leading Wales off the pitch if they suffered racial abuseafter England’s victory in Hungary being marred by monkey chants and abuse. The game in Kazan will be played behind closed doors.

Robert Page, the Wales interim manager, said: “Uefa and Fifa have to step to the plate” and Bale also called for severe punishments, arguing teams guilty of abuse could be banned from competitions.

Bale said: “Action needs to be taken to stop it. If they keep repeatedly doing it, which seems to be what is happening, then you ban the country from the competition. That kicks it out straight away. If that country keeps making these horrible gestures, then maybe the best thing to do is to get rid of them, give them a suspension and hopefully they will learn their lesson.

“If anything happens to any of our players and they wanted to walk off the pitch, I’d be fully for it.

“Qualifiers are important but these matters come way above football. If we felt we weren’t getting protection and being treated the right way by the governing bodies and the only way to get the best response was to walk off, I’d be fully for it.”

Bale has started all three of unbeaten Real’s matches this season – starting three consecutive La Liga matches for the first time in two years – after returning from a loan spell at Tottenham, which he said helped him back to a happier place and provided some welcome respite. “I think that showed coming back with Wales in the Euros,” Bale said. “I have brought that into Real Madrid this season, where there is a better environment for myself. Every player will tell you if they’re in a happier place mentally, then physically they are going to feel better and perform better. I’m playing and a bit happier and a bit more comfortable with the playing style of Real Madrid.”

Bale was reluctant to discuss his future before Euro 2020, fuelling rumours of retirement or a shock move from Madrid, but the 32-year-old is set to see out the final year of his contract in Spain after reuniting with Ancelotti, under whom he won his first Champions League. “I’ve always had a great relationship with Carlo. But it is always the same: you have to perform to get into the team. I had a good pre-season and a good start to the season. In football, you just have to play well and the perception changes very quickly.”

Bale, who is in line to win his 98th cap in Kazan, said Wales’s matches against Belarus and Estonia, whom they host in Cardiff on Wednesday, are must-wins if they want to keep pace with the Group E leaders, Belgium. Wales are third but have two games in hand on the Czech Republic and Belgium, who meet in Brussels on Sunday.

Chris Gunter, who became the first Welshman to win a century of caps in March, is set to earn his 103rd. “We’re not gunning for each other but for me the next goal is to reach 100,” Bale said.

Injury, coronavirus and visa problems have depleted the Wales squad, with Ethan Ampadu and Tyler Roberts among those unable to travel from Finland, where they drew 0-0 in a friendly on Wednesday, to Kazan because they were unable to gain approval from the Russian government in time. Players had to provide biometric data, salary details and other personal information, with many missing training at their clubs to travel to their local embassy.

Asked whether Wales had been treated unfairly and whether their rivals would receive the same logistical headache in this instance, Bale alluded to the fixture programme at Euro 2020, where England played all but one of their matches on home turf. “It would probably have been at Wembley,” he said, smiling. “It is making things a little bit more difficult but we need to go out there and get the three points with no excuses.”