MADRID (Reuters) - Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale is unlikely to face Espanyol on Sunday after coach Zinedine Zidane said he had a calf strain, casting doubt on whether the forward will be able to feature in Wales’s crucial World Cup qualifiers next month.
Bale produced his best display of the season in Real’s impressive 3-1 win at Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday, scoring and providing an assist, but was haunted by the familiar curse of a muscle injury and was forced off with five minutes to go.
Real made no announcement on the injury, which was originally thought to only be cramp, but Zidane said Bale had a small calf strain.
“He has a strain, it’s nothing important, but here we do not like to take risks if a player has something small. We will see if Gareth is with us tomorrow,” Zidane told a news conference on Saturday.
Bale’s fitness is crucial to Wales’s hopes of qualifying for the World Cup. Chris Coleman’s side, who are second in Group D, four points behind leaders Serbia and one clear of Ireland in third, visit Georgia next Saturday and host Ireland the following Tuesday in their final qualifier.
Wales need to top the group to earn an automatic place in Russia while if they finish second they will enter the playoffs.
“He will go off for international duty if he has to,” Zidane added.
“There’s no problem between Madrid and Wales, it all depends on his fitness, nothing else. We will take it day by day.”
Madrid are seven points behind Liga leaders Barcelona in sixth place in the Liga standings after dropping points in each of their three home games this season.
They will be looking for their first league win at the Santiago Bernabeu against Espanyol, who have proved accommodating opponents in recent years, losing their last 10 games against Real in all competitions.
“We would love to play all our games here at the Bernabeu,” Zidane said when asked if his side were negatively affected by the demanding atmosphere of their stadium.
“It’s true we’ve dropped points in the league, but tomorrow we have a chance to change things. We know that even though we have the best players that does not mean we can win every game by three or four goals.
“We have to prove ourselves again every day. The players want to show that after some bad results we are able to turn things around.”
Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond