Gareth Bale says Wales’ march to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 has ended the years of “abuse” he has had to endure from club team-mates.
Real Madrid forward Bale is usually on his summer holidays when major tournaments are held, but not this time with Wales playing Portugal tomorrow night for a place in the final of Euro 2016.
And Bale admits he hopes if Wales do get through then it is Germany, and not their last-four opponents France, who are waiting for them in the Paris final on Sunday.
“I remember Toni Kroos (Real Madrid team-mate) saying we’d only have three games here,” said Bale.
“So it would be nice to meet him in the final.
“It was a good laugh and a joke — a bit of banter — but I’ve had a lot of abuse over the years.
Here's a little extra sport. Watch the latest BallTalk for the best sports chat and analysis: Euro 2016 - Can Wales win Euro 2016?
“When we used to lose and we were 100th in the world, people would say ‘you have nine weeks holiday instead of two’. So it’s great to finally be in a major tournament actually doing great things with our national team.”
Chris Coleman’s team have already gone further in a major tournament than any other Wales side in history.
The 3-1 victory over Belgium eclipsed the achievement of the 1958 side, who reached the quarter-final of the World Cup in Sweden.
But Bale stressed there was always belief in the squad that they could cause a huge upset in France this summer.
“We’ve obviously exceeded a lot of people’s expectations, we understand that,” said Bale.
“But we always believed we could go all the way — you see the fairytale of Greece and Denmark in the past and you think why can’t we do it?
“We grew as a team in qualifying and we’ve just grown more throughout the tournament.
“The England game we learned from our mistakes of not passing the ball.
“When we’ve had to win ugly we’ve won ugly, and when we’ve had to play football we’ve played football.”
Some members of the Wales camp have been caught out by their remarkable run to the last four.
Chris Gunter will miss his brother’s wedding in Mexico on Thursday, while midfielder Joe Ledley was due to get married in Ibiza on Saturday — but has now postponed his big day.
Bale’s confidence that Wales could make the final is reflected by the fact he did not book his summer holidays until the Euros were over.
“I fully believed that we could do something — that is why I booked my holiday for the 11th. I am not like the others,” laughed Bale.
Much of the build-up to the semi-final has centred on the battle between Bale and Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo.
But Bale is confident that Wales can shackle the Portuguese dangerman.
“Of course he’s a fantastic player, everybody knows what he can do,” said Bale.
“But we have always spoken about what we do, what we do ourselves as a team. We don’t worry about the opposition.
“The team is the star for us. There’s no stars in our team — we all work as one.
“We all run for each other, tackle for each other, fight for each other — and if the team performs well we are able to shut out a lot of threats.”
Portugal defender Pepe is a doubt for the semi-final after missing training yesterday with a thigh complaint.
Bale says the loss of his Real Madrid team-mate would be a big blow for Portugal, while insisting that the absence of suspended pair Ben Davies and Aaron Ramsey has provided extra motivation for Wales to reach the final.
“Pepe is a fantastic player, he’s incredible for Madrid,” said Bale.
“He’s a very professional athlete and a great man. It’ll be a big loss but I’m sure he’ll do everything he can to get fit.
“We’ve lost Aaron and Ben and it’s horrible for them.
“The rules are difficult to take, you wish coming into the tournament that yellow cards and stuff would get wiped (by the semi-final stage).
“You feel for them and I’m sure they’ll be hurt, but they are not showing it.
“They are doing everything to get behind the team. It’s given us even more motivation for us to win the semi-final and so they can play again. We are not doing it just for the nation and the badge now, we are doing it for them as well.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved