WALES have three more months of nerves and dreams in the bid to end their wait for the World Cup at 64 years after Gareth Bale’s heroics in Cardiff.

Robert Page’s men successfully negotiated part one of their qualifying play-offs by beating Austria 2-1 in the capital with Scotland or Ukraine to come.

Wales led 1-0 at the break thanks to Bale scoring his first free-kick for Wales since Euro 2016 in the 25th minute.

That left foot slammed in a second five minutes after the restart just as Austria were building up a head of steam.

The visitors struck through Marcel Sabitzer, with the help of a huge deflection off Ben Davies, with 25 minutes to go.

Dan James was a willing runner but his erratic finishing meant it was a nervy finale. Thankfully the celebrations were able to begin at 9.38pm.

A job well done, a job half-done.

Wales are unbeaten in their last 17 competitive home fixtures and if they record a 13th win this summer then they will play on the biggest stage.

They were meant to be hostingeither Scotland or Ukraine on Tuesday for the right to go to Qatar but the other semi and final have been pushed back to June.

Newport County AFC could be a League One club by then while Bale, fresh from being labelled a parasite by Madrid newspaper/fanzine Marca, will be without a club.

On this evidence, the Scots or Ukraine won’t be fooled by a lack of match sharpness.

South Wales Argus: DELIGHT: Wales celebrate Gareth Bale's openerDELIGHT: Wales celebrate Gareth Bale's opener

Page had pledged to go on the attack and delivered with his line-up featuring both Harry Wilson and James alongside Bale.

Neco Williams and Connor Roberts provided the energy down the flanks with Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen in the middle.

Joe Rodon was flanked by Ethan Ampadu and Ben Davies in defence in front of Wayne Hennessey, back in goal in the absence of the injured Danny Ward.

It was a manic start in which both teams had chances to get their noses in front.

First Wales pressured Austria into giving the ball away with James cutting in on his left before firing straight at Heinz Linder in the second minute.

That was a half-chance but the visitors had a full one after five. Marcel Sabitzer cut open the defence but Christoph Baumgartner hit the bar from his one-on-one, with Williams managing a vital deflection with his last-ditch tackle.

Wales responded with a break that ended with James’ cross from the left just eluding Ramsey on the stretch.

It was frenetic with neither side looking particularly solid at the back yet it remained goalless until the 25th minute, when Bale ensured that Baumgartner’s punishment for a bodycheck on Wilson wasn’t just a yellow card.

The strike was inch perfect, Linder watching on as the bar kissed the bar and went in rather than rattling it and going out.

Austria looked to talisman Marko Arnautovic to respond but the former West Ham forward headed over from distance and then miscontrolled after starting a run from inside his own half to allow Rodon to get back.

The visitors were close to chasing a two-goal deficit in the 40th minute when Wales’ press once against created an opening.

James pickpocket, Wilson pass and Ramsey was in down the right, his near-post shot was powerful and accurate only for Linder to produce a magnificent fingertip save.

Wales had to be content with a 1-0 lead at the break and it was Austria that started the second half on the front foot, albeit without causing Hennessey any stress.

And from one counter that earned a corner, Page’s men struck.

South Wales Argus: COOL: Gareth Bale works his way clear for the winnnerCOOL: Gareth Bale works his way clear for the winnner

The ball was whipped in from the right, Davies was a nuisance and the ball fell to Bale, who slammed in across Lindner at the Canton End.

The supporters were nearly toasting a third when James ran clear but was denied in a one-on-one, albeit the flag went up for a narrow offside that would have been checked by VAR.

Hopes of a nerve-free night were dashed after 64 minutes when Sabitzer slammed in a shot that deflected past Hennessey, with the goal given after a check for offside against Arnautovic.

Austria had a lifeline but the buffer should have been swiftly restored only for James to again fail with a showdown against Lindner.

The Leeds man had another golden opportunity on the counter-attack but this time didn’t get his shot off, hesitating to allow Xavier Schalger to get back and tackle.

The positive, at least he was getting in the positions.

With Bale struggling because of a lack of minutes, Wales hanging on as the clock hit 80 and Page added fresh legs with two to go by brining on in-form Brennan Johnson for James.

The board showed that there were to be just four added minutes but that was enough time for Andreas Weimann to be denied by a Davies clearance, although Hennessey had it covered.

Bale’s night was over two minutes past the 90 with Chris Mepham providing added protection to ensure the Madrid star was the match winner.

Wales: Hennessey; Ampadu, Rodon, B Davies; C Roberts, Ramsey, Allen, N Williams; Wilson, James (Johnson 87), Bale (Mepham 90+2).
Goals: Bale (2).

Austria goals: Sabitzer.