Gareth Bale put Wales’ qualification for Euro 2016 on the same level as winning the Champions League with Real Madrid. Wales ended their 58-year wait for a major finals appearance on Saturday night, despite losing 2-0 to Bosnia-Herzegovina in Zenica.
Cyprus’ 2-1 victory in Israel stamped their passport to France next summer and Bale will now avoid joining the illustrious Welsh players of the past who failed to play at a major tournament.
“This is right up there to be honest,” said Bale, who scored when Real beat Madrid rivals Atletico in the 2014 Champions League final.
“Everyone knows how important Wales is to me and how proud we are to all play for our country. It ranks on a par with everything else, if not top.”
Bale has won the Champions League, Copa del Rey and the Super Cup since joining Real from Tottenham in the summer of 2013 for a world record £85.3 million (Dh479.7m) fee.
The 26-year-old has played a huge role in his country’s Euro 2016 qualifying success, scoring six and assisting two of Wales’ nine goals as well as becoming a vocal leader in Chris Coleman’s side.
Speaking after Wales’ first defeat in 11 competitive matches was confirmed by two late Bosnian goals, Bale said: “It is hard to put into words what we have achieved.
“I have never celebrated a loss like that. But it is not about one game, we did a lot of the hard work beforehand. It is something we have been working for since we started and, fair credit to all the staff and all the fans, it is a moment to enjoy.
“The dressing room has been a lot of fun and it is something we have been working hard for. Now we have done it, we have crossed the line and will enjoy the occasion. It won’t take time to sink in.”
Wales’ only previous tournament appearance came at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden when they qualified through the back door.
What we know for sure for Euro 2016 finals draw: Pot 1: France, Spain, Germany, England, Portugal Pot 4: Wales, Northern Ireland, Albania
— Dale Johnson (@dalejohnsonESPN) October 11, 2015
Having failed to progress from their group, Wales became a ‘lucky loser’ when Israel were ordered to play an eliminator against European opposition after Arab countries had refused to meet them in the wake of the Suez Crisis two years earlier.
Wales were drawn from the pot after Belgium passed up the opportunity to play Israel and they eventually reached the quarter-final, losing 1-0 to Brazil as a 17-year-old Pele scored his first international goal.
“We know the history of Wales and we are the first team to actually qualify properly,” Bale said. “It has been our aim all the time and we have managed to put a good run in the qualification campaign.
“It is going to go down in history, but there is still a lot of work to do after this.”
Wales will finish their campaign against group minnows Andorra on Monday night with Welsh football preparing for its biggest ever party.
The game at the Cardiff City Stadium is a 34,000 sell-out and Bale expects to start after completing his first full 90 minutes in Zenica for nearly a month.
Bale suffered a calf injury playing for Real in the Champions League on September 16 and was not at his scintillating best against Bosnia.
“It was good to get some minutes,” Bale said. “Hopefully I will be saying to the gaffer I want to play on Tuesday. “
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