Gareth Bale says he's ready for a rough ride from the United States as he prepares for the "incredible" challenge of leading Wales into their World Cup game since 1958 on Monday.
Bale will captain Wales against the USA in their opening match on Monday, the country's first at a World Cup since they lost to Pele's Brazil in the quarter-finals 64 years ago.
"As a kid you dream of seeing Wales in a World Cup, but to actually be in the team that achieves it is an incredible feeling and an honor to be able to do it for our country," Bale told reporters on Sunday. "Everyone's dreamt of it for such a long time. We've had so many close calls. For us to be the team to get over the line was incredible. But more importantly the best thing to grow football in our country, to inspire another generation. By doing that hopefully we're going to have a stronger national team in the future."
Bale's Los Angeles FC teammate Kellyn Acosta said last week that the U.S. players would need to "kick" the Welsh skipper if necessary.
"I tried to avoid him kicking me the last two weeks before we came," joked Bale. "It's nothing new. I'm used to getting kicked on the field, nothing's changed. I'm sure it will be fair but difficult game and played in a great spirit."
Wales made a shock run to the semifinals at Euro 2016 and again reached the knockout phase at last year's European Championship.
Despite his struggles with injury and lack of match sharpness, the 33-year-old Bale was the driving force of a successful World Cup qualification campaign. The former Real Madrid star has started just twice since joining Los Angeles FC in June, but Bale has a habit of rising to the big occasion and insists he is ready to deliver in Qatar.
"I'm right where I want to be. I'm here the night before the first game and I'm ready to go," said Bale." "We've all been training hard the last week, adapting to the heat, the time zones, and we have no excuses now."
Wales will be without experienced midfielder Joe Allen, who was ruled out of their Group B opener by coach Rob Page. Allen, a mainstay in the Wales midfield at the past two Euros, has not played for Swansea since September because of a hamstring injury.
"He's probably not going to make it, if I'm being completely honest with you. We could've pushed him maybe but then if he breaks down he's definitely out of the tournament," said Page.
Page also confirmed Bale would wear a rainbow armband as part of the "OneLove" campaign to promote diversity and inclusion, adding that FIFA had not tried to intervene.
FIFA has proposed a series of alternative armbands featuring different social campaigns in response to plans by European teams to wear rainbow armbands at the World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.
© Agence France-Presse