Euro 2016: Ronaldo ends Wales' dream with giant leap into final
Gareth Bale insisted Wales must use their Euro 2016 success as a platform for World Cup qualification after seeing Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo inspire Portugal to semi-final glory in Lyon.
Playing in their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup, Wales saw their hopes of a remarkable run to the final ended by Ronaldo, who scored one with a brilliant leaping header and made the other for Nani as Portugal secured a 2-0 victory.
But after becoming only the fourth British team to reach the last four of a major tournament - following England in 1966, 1990 and 1996 - Bale admits Wales now have a taste for the intoxicating atmosphere experienced in France.
"We've had a taste of it now and we look forward to the future," Bale said. "We have confidence. We don't want to turn up to just one tournament, it's about the bigger picture.
"But we have no regrets. We're a proud nation and proud of what we achieved."
Bale added: “We obviously would have loved to have gone to the final and challenged for the trophy, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“We’ve given everything on the pitch, off the pitch. We’ve tried to enjoy the experience of the tournament.
“We want to thank all the fans for all the support we’ve had, it’s been absolutely incredible.”
Despite Ronaldo proving the difference between the two teams — Bale and the Portuguese superstar embraced at the end of the game — the Welsh wizard insisted that the game was about more than the two Real Madrid players.
“He (Ronaldo) is a natural goalscorer and he scored yet again,” Bale said. “It’s not about them, it’s about us.
“We’re disappointed, naturally, but they got the first goal and were a bit lucky on the second.
“We tried our hardest to get back in the game. We fought until the last second and we’re sorry we couldn’t get to the final but we gave everything.
“We’re disappointed, but we’ll pick ourselves up. We’re a proud bunch and we’ll stick together and lift the spirits and go again.
“Nobody expected us to get this far, but we’re very proud and we’ll continue to battle on.”
Wales manager Chris Coleman echoed Bale’s comments by insisting that Euro 2016 will be the start for the current team rather than the culmination of their work and potential.
“Whatever the end date of this tournament was, it’s not the end date for this group of players,” Coleman said. “They’ll be there a lot longer than I’ll be there.
“It still hurts, the fact that we’ve lost the semi-final, and the players are gutted, but that will subside. When they look back, they need to understand they have done their country proud.
“Once you give what you have got, it’s always enough, even if you don’t get the result.”
Coleman added: “We found it hard to open the game up. When the first goal went in we just lost our concentration for five minutes.
“When you’re up against this kind of quality, you’ll be punished. They capitalised on that.
“But you win and you lose. We’ve done plenty of winning. It’s our turn tonight to lose, it’s not a nice feeling, but congratulations to Portugal and I hope they go on and win the final.”
Portugal, meanwhile, go on to contest their first major final since losing as hosts to Greece in the Euro 2004 decider in Lisbon.
And Ronaldo, who played in that game and a 2006 World Cup semi-final defeat to France, insists Portugal can beat either France or Germany in Sunday’s final in Paris.
“It’s what we have dreamt of since the beginning,” Ronaldo said. “We knew it would be a long road and we’re still in the tournament.
“The players deserve it, the coach deserves it. We haven’t won anything yet but the dream is still alive.
“I’ve always said my dream was to win a trophy with Portugal. We’re closer to doing it and I believe that we’ll win.
“With a lot of work, humility and the spirit of self-sacrifice, which I have always shown in my career, these sorts of things are doable.”