Euro 2016

Bale hails 'spot-on' Wales

Wales defender Neil Taylor celebrates his side's 3-0 Group B win over Russia with his children. He scored the second goal of the match as Wales trounced a poor Russian side and finished as Group B winners.
Wales defender Neil Taylor celebrates his side's 3-0 Group B win over Russia with his children. He scored the second goal of the match as Wales trounced a poor Russian side and finished as Group B winners.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Real Madrid star praises team after 3-0 win over Russia seals last-16 passage

TOULOUSE • Gareth Bale said that qualification for the knockout stage of Euro 2016 with Wales sits alongside anything he has achieved with Real Madrid.

The Welsh star also described Monday's emphatic 3-0 win over Russia - one that secured their place in the last 16 - as one of the best team performances he has ever been involved in.

On a memorable and historic night for Welsh football, Russia were beaten in Toulouse, with Aaron Ramsey, Neil Taylor and Bale scoring the goals that enabled them to take advantage of England's failure to beat Slovakia and finish as the Group B winners.

It set up a last-16 tie against one of the third-placed qualifiers at the Parc des Princes on Saturday.

For Bale, who is also the tournament's leading scorer with three goals, it felt like a seminal moment in his career.

"It is hard to describe, it was an unbelievable occasion," he said. "It is right up there with anything I have done. Given the pressure of the game, that was one of the best team performances I have ever been a part of."

After losing 1-2 against England in Lens last Thursday, Wales showed character and courage to not only beat Russia but also do so in style.

Their slick, incisive passing was a joy to watch at times, as Bale, Ramsey and Joe Allen all produced stellar performances.

"We spoke after the England game that we needed to be better in keeping the ball - and we did that," Bale said.

"Obviously, that created the space that allowed me, (Ramsey) and the midfielders to get on the ball more and when you do that, you get the chance to do what we do best. It was a great team performance, everything was spot- on."

Russia, who finished bottom of the group with only one point from three matches, were desperately poor, but Bale suggested that it was more a case of how well Wales played than highlighting their opponents' shortcomings.

"We were just very, very good," he said. "We did our homework, we knew what to expect and I thought our game plan was perfect. It was amazing."

With the game effectively over midway through the second half, coach Chris Coleman took the opportunity to give Bale a rest and withdrew him seven minutes from time.

The 26-year-old received a rapturous ovation from the Wales supporters as he left the pitch.

"This is the best," said Coleman, about his team's and Bale's performances. "To see your team perform like that, execute everything that you've worked on, that's really pleasing. So I'm immensely proud."

While Wales are unsure who they will face on Saturday, the fact that they have finished as group winners opens up the possibility of going deeper in the tournament.

"It definitely does," Bale said. "There are no easy games but this might give us a slightly easier game. Finishing top is better than second or third, it is good for us and we want to concentrate on ourselves and getting it right for the next game."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2016, with the headline 'Bale hails 'spot-on' Wales'. Print Edition | Subscribe