PREVIEW - Wales may need 'Plan B' if Bale misfires v Slovakia
By Steve Tongue
BORDEAUX, France (Reuters) - Wales must find a way of avoiding over dependence on Gareth Bale if they are to make progress at their first major international tournament for 58 years, starting with Saturday's opening Group B match against Slovakia.
Not since John Charles, a world-class performer at centre-half and centre-forward in Serie A six decades ago, have they relied so much on one player.
When 'Gentle Giant' Charles missed the 1958 World Cup quarter-final against Brazil, Wales still performed creditably but lost 1-0 to the eventual champions.
The current squad have shown little sign of similar resilience without their one genuine class player Bale, who cost a world record 85 million pounds ($123.06 million) when Real Madrid signed him from Tottenham Hotspur three years ago.
Operating just behind the main striker, Bale scored seven of the 11 goals that enabled Wales to finish runners-up to Belgium in their qualifying group.
On Thursday, Bale was adamant that Wales were "never a one-man team", adding: "For us, it's a squad thing. We're 'Together Stronger'....we don't just say it for no reason."
Yet those who believe Wales are totally reliant on their totem can point to how they have fared without him in subsequent friendlies, of which he has played only half an hour in total.
They lost three and drew the other one at home to Northern Ireland only through a late penalty.
Former captain Kevin Ratcliffe said this week that Wales need a 'Plan B' -- and he did not mean 'B' for Bale.
Lacking a main striker of genuine international quality, coach Chris Coleman knows his side must rely on midfield support as well as a normally reliable defence that looked less impressive in the final warm-up game -- a 3-0 defeat by Sweden.
When Wales take on Slovakia, in a fixture between the two teams regarded as the weakest in a group also containing England and Russia, the Slovaks will hope to take advantage of opponents who have won only one of their past seven games.
Previous results between the two sides offer bewilderment rather than enlightenment. Wales lost 5-1 at home to the Slovaks in 2006 -- Bale scoring his first international goal, as a 17-year-old -- but in the return game in Trnava they won 5-2.
Jan Kozak's Slovakia illustrated their potential by reeling off six straight victories in qualifying, ending holders Spain's long unbeaten run and then beating Ukraine.
Winning in the rain away to world champions Germany less than a fortnight ago will have done further wonders for their self-belief and Wales will need far more than just Bale at his best to overcome them.
($1 = 0.6907 pounds)
(Editing by Ian Chadband)