ZENICA (Bosnia and Herzegovina) • Gareth Bale hailed "the greatest loss" of his career after Wales reached Euro 2016 despite falling to a 2-0 defeat in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Wales failed to secure the point that they needed to confirm a place at next summer's Finals in France, but it did not matter. Israel's 1-2 home loss to Cyprus meant that, with one game remaining, Chris Coleman's side are assured of at least second spot in Group B and automatic qualification.
Bale, who has scored six goals in the qualifying campaign, said: "This has got to be the best loss of my life. It was a difficult game but in the end, the only thing that mattered is we have gone through.
"This is a dream come true for me, but it doesn't stop here. We have got to go to France and try to do the business. It will be nice to test ourselves in one of the biggest tournaments in the world."
Coleman echoed his star player's sentiments, admitting that he had "never been so happy to lose 2-0".
"When I was walking off, I saw our supporters were singing. After that, it is all smiles. It is sheer elation," he said.
"It won't sink in for a few days because we have waited so long. Even as a kid and a Welsh fan, we kept missing out, so for us to finally do it, there is a lot of emotion involved.
"In my career, it is the biggest thing I have ever achieved and I am not sure anything is going to top this feeling."
Elvis Presley was at No. 1 with Jailhouse Rock and man had not yet made it to the moon the last time Wales reached the Finals of a major tournament - at the 1958 World Cup.
After so many cruel heartaches, perhaps it was fate that Wales could not finish the job themselves. In 1981, a floodlight failure caused them to lose their concentration and throw away what should have been a crucial win against Iceland in their final qualifier. In 1977 and 1985, controversial penalties against Scotland meant Wales failed to make another tournament.
On Saturday, the players were initially unsure if they had qualified at the final whistle but all soon became clear, as they saw the 700 travelling Welsh fans in wild celebration.
"I am disappointed because we lost, but these boys deserve this - it is unbelievable," Coleman said.
Bosnia substitute Milan Djuric scored the opener - the first goal Wales had conceded in 574 minutes of play.
Djuric then set up the second for striker Vedad Ibisevic as Bosnia maintained their chance of a play-off place.
Belgium leapfrogged Wales into first place with their 4-1 win in Andorra, taking them to 20 points followed by Wales on 18, Bosnia (14), Israel (13) and Cyprus (12).
It was Wales' first defeat, and the first time they had conceded more than one goal in a game during this campaign.
Wales finish at home to the group's bottom team Andorra at the Cardiff City Stadium, where there will be a party atmosphere.
"We always had belief from the start but we knew it would be a lot of hard work," said captain Ashley Williams. "We didn't manage to do it in front of our home fans but when we go home now, we'll hopefully win that game and have a nice night after it."
THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS