Gareth Bale’s hardships continue at Real Madrid

FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2017 file photo, Real Madrid's Gareth Bale steps from the tunnel onto the pitch at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain. Bale is expected to make his return to Real Madrid's lineup in a Copa del Rey match against Fuenlabrada on Tuesday Nov. 28, 2017 after being sidelined for more than two months because of injuries. (AP Photo/Paul White, File)

MADRID (AP) Gareth Bale’s anticipated return didn’t last long.

The Real Madrid forward impressed in the few minutes he played in the Copa del Rey on Tuesday after a long injury layoff, but he remains far from fit and is likely to be sidelined again for the team’s Spanish league game on Saturday.

Bale played for about 30 minutes in the 2-2 draw against third-division club Fuenlabrada, making his return to action after more than two months nursing lingering muscle injuries. He played well and set up both goals for Madrid, which advanced to the last 16 with a 4-2 aggregate victory.

”We were all happy for him,” Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez said. ”He played a good match.”

Bale’s performance raised hopes of a return to the starting lineup, reuniting the ”BBC” trio along with Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. The trio hasn’t played together since last season.

But Bale did not practice with the rest of the squad on Wednesday and Thursday, and it is unlikely that Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane will let him play on Saturday at Athletic Bilbao.

Zidane has said that he is anxious to see the BBC playing together again, and that he felt Bale was ready to start again, but the coach was being careful not to risk a more serious injury.

The 28-year-old Wales forward endured a series of muscle problems this season. He played only 10 matches with Madrid and missed the final World Cup qualifiers with his national team, which was failed to qualify for next year’s tournament in Russia.

Bale’s last match before his second-half appearance against Fuenlabrada had been in September against Borussia Dortmund in the group stage of the Champions League.

With his participation in Tuesday’s game, Bale became the British player with the most appearances for Madrid, overcoming the 159 matches played by David Beckham.

While Bale won’t likely play on Saturday, Ronaldo is set to return to the lineup after being among the regular starters rested against Fuenlabrada.

Ronaldo has a good scoring record against Athletic, with 16 goals in 16 matches. His last goals against Athletic came in a 4-2 league win at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in 2016.

Defending champion Madrid is in fourth place, eight points behind Barcelona and four behind second-place Valencia. Barcelona hosts Celta Vigo on Saturday, while Valencia plays at Getafe on Sunday.

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