Joe Allen accepts it is probably now or never for Wales’ ‘Golden Generation’ to play at a World Cup.
Wales conclude their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with home games against Belarus and Belgium in the next week and need four points to guarantee a play-off place in March.
The Dragons’ Nations League success means they are almost certain to make the play-offs anyway, and Qatar 2022 is likely to be the final chance for Allen, Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale to perform on football’s biggest stage.
The trio – the stand-out figures of a so-called ‘Golden Generation’ – have shone at two European Championships, but all three will be in their mid-30s by the time the 2026 World Cup finals come around.
“It’s the one we haven’t got,” Allen said of reaching a World Cup. “We’ve come reasonably close in the past but fallen a little bit short.
“As we all know, we’re getting older and getting towards the later stages of our careers.
“We realise that time is running out a little bit and we might not get another chance.
“We couldn’t be hungrier or more motivated to throw absolutely everything at the games ahead to try and get ourselves there.”
Real Madrid forward Bale, Wales’ record goalscorer, is set to win his 100th cap against Belarus on Saturday after recovering from a hamstring tear sustained two months ago.
Juventus playmaker Ramsey should make his 70th appearance at the Cardiff City Stadium, with Stoke’s former Liverpool midfielder Allen winning his 68th cap.
Allen said: “Playing at a World Cup is the one thing absolutely at the top of the list that I want to achieve.
“Gareth and Aaron are two players who belong on that stage.
“Certainly in terms of their ability alone, and also in terms of what they have done in international football for years and years.
“They have shown huge quality and I think it would be fitting if they did get that chance.”
Wales beat Belarus 3-2 in September with Bale’s second international hat-trick and stoppage-time winner securing the victory.
They could go into the final game against Belgium with the world’s number one team having already qualified for Qatar next winter.
Belgium’s huge goal difference advantage over Wales means a point at home to Estonia will almost certainly be enough to top the group, while victory will guarantee automatic World Cup qualification.
Allen said: “There’s still a lot of work to be done but I think most people can grasp just how big it is.
“We know how much is at stake and we’re all hugely motivated to do what we need in these two games to ensure that second spot realistically and hopefully a home tie in the play-offs.
“A Saturday night in Cardiff in front of what will hopefully be a packed out crowd, these are the games it is all about and you really look forward to.
“Hopefully, if our performance can match the atmosphere that is awaiting us, then it will be a good night.”