LYON:Welsh football star Gareth Bale has praised his team's show of "pride and passion" at the European Championship and has urged the side to target regular qualification for major tournaments in future after their remarkable campaign was brought to a halt at the semi-final stage by Portugal.
Bale's Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Portugal to a 2-0 victory, imposing himself on the contest in the second half with a goal and an assist to propel the Euro 2004 finalists into the final, against either France or Germany on Sunday.
"It's very disappointing to be so close to the final but this is a proud moment for us. We have achieved a lot. We had pride and passion and the fans are the best in the world, by far. We wish we could have done it for them but we've given everything on the pitch, off the pitch. We've tried to enjoy the experience of the tournament and we’ve had a taste of it now, so we look forward to the future," Bale told the media after the loss.
"We have confidence and we don't want to turn up to one tournament. It's about the bigger picture. We're disappointed but we'll pick ourselves up. We're a proud bunch and we'll stick together, lift the spirits and go again. Nobody expected us to get this far but we're very proud and have no regrets. We'll continue to battle on."
Bale also said he believes the national team will be more respected now after such an impressive show.
"I think we've grown in confidence and grown in stature. We'll be more respected now. We said all along, we don't just want to qualify for this tournament; we want to qualify for major tournaments every time we go into qualifiers," he said.
"The hunger's there, the spirit's there. We'll take all the positives and go into the next campaign trying to pull that off again."
Wales will face Austria, Serbia and the Republic of Ireland in qualification Group D to reach the World Cup in Russia in two years' time, with the aspiration to capitalise on their performance at Euro 2016 by becoming regulars at major tournaments.
This sentiment was duly echoed by their head coach Chris Coleman.
"That has always been the target: qualifying regularly. There was a psychological barrier we needed to go through to reach the first one, given it had been so long since our last appearance," Coleman said.
"We've now sampled tournament football, and it was such an experience … such a healthy vibe from people of all nations. It's been completely different from what we expected, a different challenge, and you can't predict what it’s going to be like unless you've already been through it for six or seven weeks: we faced all sorts of challenges as a squad and as a group and we've come through them all up to this one. We want some more of that. We need some more of that."
The Wales coach admitted that Aaron Ramsey's suspension, following two yellow cards, had affected a team which had shown signs of fatigue.
"But I'd find it difficult to say to any of my lads that they could have done any more. They left everything out there. We came up short tonight but this bunch doesn’t usually come up short. It would be ludicrous of me to criticise any one of them," Coleman added.
Bale also praised the Welsh for their support throughout the tournament.
"We want to thank the fans for all the support we have had, they have been absolutely incredible. I felt we deserved better. We wish we could have done it for them and we'd like to thank all the fans at home and all the ones who have travelled out and behaved themselves," Bale said.
"It is difficult to analyse now as we are obviously massively disappointed. We tried our hardest to get back in the game, we fought until the last second and we are sorry we couldn't get to the final, but we gave it everything," he added.
"It's been an amazing journey. We look forward to the future."