Wales boss Chris Coleman declared himself proud of his side’s achievement after their Euro 2016 fairytale came to an abrupt end with semi-final defeat to a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Portugal in Lyon.
Ronaldo opened the scoring early in the second period, equalling Michel Platini’s record of nine European Championship goals in the process, while moments later Portugal’s lead was extended by former Manchester United winger Nani.
Portugal will have the opportunity to win a first major trophy when they play the winners of tonight’s last-four tie between hosts France and world champions Germany in Sunday’s final. For Wales it is a case of what might have been.
“I’m proud of the players, the staff, the whole nation,” said Coleman. “The supporters have been brilliant. I know it’s cost them a lot of money and I hope we’ve repaid that with some happy memories. It’s been incredible.
“It hurts, the fact that we’ve lost a semi-final. The players are gutted, but that will subside. When they look back they need to understand they have done their country proud.”
Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale echoed his manager’s sentiments and vowed to make tournament football a regular occurrence for Wales, who had not competed at a major competition since the 1958 World Cup.
“We’ve had a taste of it now and we look forward to the future,” he said. “We have confidence. We don’t want to turn up to one tournament, it’s about the bigger picture.”
Wales were the first team to reach the semi-finals on their European Championship debut since Sweden in 1992 and produced a street-wise, if cagey, performance in the first half.
Their clearest sight of goal arrived on 19 minutes as Bale peeled off a static Portuguese defence to meet a canny, low corner from Joe Ledley, although the world’s most expensive player failed to keep his shot down.
Portugal barely threatened in a half of precious few efforts at goal. Wales, however, were offered insight into what was to follow moments before the break as Ronaldo rose at the far post but was unable to direct his header goalwards.
Wales did not heed that warning and five minutes into the second period a well-worked Portugal corner ended with Ronaldo hanging in the air, towering above centre-half James Chester, and powering a header beyond stopper Wayne Hennessey.
Portugal took a giant stride towards their second European Championship final just three minutes later when a scuffed Ronaldo attempt from outside the penalty area was turned home by a stretching Nani.
Ronaldo is yet to score from 43 free-kicks at a major tournament, although his offering as the hour mark ticked by whistled narrowly over the crossbar, while Joao Mario blazed wide after Hennessey spilled Nani’s 25-yard drive.