Gareth Bale is set to make his first appearance since November for Real Madrid against Espanyol this weekend.

That means the Wales international is likely to be fit to face the Republic of Ireland in their crunch World Cup qualifier at the Aviva Stadium on March 24.

Real coach Zinedine Zidane announced the one-time most expensive footballer in the world will be in the Real Madrid squad to face Espanyol this weekend.

Bale has been sidelined since undergoing surgery on the ankle tendon damage he suffered during a Champions League match against Sporting Lisbon almost three months ago.

Zidane said last week that he hoped to have Bale available again before the Champions League last-16 second leg against Napoli on March 7, but the 27-year-old forward has already returned to full training and is now set to be involved against Espanyol.

Zidane told a pre-match press conference: "He will be in the squad and the plan is for him to have some minutes. We're keen and he's keen as well.

"Bale is a very important player for us. We know the quality and speed that he has, and the damage he can cause the opposition.

"He's very happy to return to the team, to be with us, and be able to play again."

Ireland currently top the Russia 2018 Group D qualifying table on ten points from four games, four ahead of third placed Wales. Neither team has lost a game yet, though Wales have drawn three of their four matches so far.