By Phil Blanche, PA
Neil Taylor says Gareth Bale’s “X factor” gives Wales the advantage in their World Cup play-off battle with Scotland or Ukraine.
Bale has played less than two hours of football for Real Madrid since the end of August as his farewell season at the Bernabeu has turned into a personal nightmare.
But Bale, who has been declared fit for Saturday’s Champions League final against Liverpool, guided Wales into a World Cup play-off decider with a stunning two-goal show against Austria in March.
Wales will play Scotland or Ukraine in Cardiff on June 5 to decide Europe’s last spot at the 2022 finals in Qatar.
“Gareth has been the X factor for Wales for 10 years now, the threat that other countries of our level don’t have,” Euro 2016 hero Taylor told the PA news agency
“They might have good teams and good squads, but they don’t have that X factor player.
“He was the difference in the Austria game again and people like that are gold dust.
“We’ve become accustomed to when Wales are in big games that we usually turn up and get the result.
“It’s been like that for many years now and this is no different. I feel if all three teams play to their best then Wales come out on top.”
Taylor was part of the Wales team which reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016 in France.
The 43-times capped full-back or wing-back scored his only international goal in the 3-0 victory over Russia at that tournament and he believes the current Wales squad has greater depth than the ones he featured in.
He said: “There’s a lot of strength in depth. What I’ve liked about it as well is we’ve picked up players that maybe wouldn’t have looked at Wales in the past.
“People like Brennan Johnson know what Wales is about now and it’s important we can attract those players.
“Brennan is a fantastic talent and the question now is can we get him to fulfil his potential.
“It’s clear not many people can get to Gareth’s level, but we have to try and get three or four players at top clubs.”
Having qualified for the last two European Championships, Wales are now one win away from reaching what would be only their second World Cup.
Wales’ previous finals appearance came in 1958 when qualification was secured by play-off success over Israel.
“This group of lads have got that same camaraderie we had in 2016,” said Taylor, 33, who could now extend his career abroad after leaving Middlesbrough earlier this month.
“I think by us doing it first (qualifying for a major tournament) it gave them the vision that it can be done.
— Wales 🏴 (@Cymru) May 23, 2022
“We’re ranked 18th in the world and for a country of our size that’s fantastic. The challenge is to stay there and for those players to make sure it carries on for many years
“We know the era of having world-class players like Gareth and Aaron (Ramsey) will come to an end, that’s inevitable.
“But we are creating a team that looks like it could 100 per cent compete at a very high level.
“We’re definitely in a golden era of Welsh football, and qualifying for a World Cup would be a great thing to tick off.”