KEIR RADNEDGE in LYON: Chris Coleman viewed conceding the first goal, five minutes after half-time in the Euro 2016 semi-final against Portugal, had been crucial in bringing Wales’ grand adventure to an end.
Staff and players shared in applause of mutual thanks and appreciation after the final whistle in the 2-0 defeat in Lyon ended – temporarily at least – a remarkable rise of more than 100 places in the FIFA world ranking over the past four years.
“Don’t take me home,” sang the fans, along with yet another emotional last rendition of Land of My Fathers, but it was time. Wales had been beaten finally, as Coleman readily acknowledged, by the better team albeit with a game plan which paid due credit to his own players’ strength.
Cristiano Ronaldo struck early in the second half and then provided the opportunity for Nani to score a second, all in three shatteringly decisive minutes. Try as they might, Wales were never able to forge a route back into the game.
Coleman said: “That first goal was always goung to be crucial, to us or them. It was a tight match, we never got into our rythm and momentum but credit to Portugal, they defended very well and killed the space and we found it difficult to get our game going.
“What happened was that we lost our concentration for five minutes and, against the quality in this tournament – especially in a semi-final – you’re going to get punished. We’ve done plenty of winning, now it was our turn to lose. Not a nice feeling but congratulations to Portugal and I hope they go on and win the final.”
Coleman expanded on his assessment of Ronaldo and Co, saying: “Portugal had been criticised heavily for the way they played, that they hadn’t won a game in 90 minutes. But to get to the semi-finals you have to have something about you and its not just Cristiano Ronaldo.
“They’ve got a good system and a plan and they can win the final, whether it’s against France or Germany . It’s not just the talent, it’s the togetherness.
“They’ve got quality but they work as a team and, once they got the two goals, we tried our best to create a chance and just couldn’t do it. We were a little bit tired. Gareth Bale worked his socks off, trying everything he knew to get us back in the game.
“In the end we came up short but credit to Portugal.
Coleman was still bursting with pride in his own players for the manner in which they arrived at, and contested, the semi-final.
He said: “I’m immensely proud of them. I can’t tell them how much. It’s both what they’ve done and how they’ve performed. To get to the semi-finals had been amazing. They’ve put so much into it. Oddly the only game when we didnt show what we are about was against England.
“It’s not the end for this group of players. They will be there a lot longer than me as a manager.
“It’s been a great experience. It’s been completely different to what we expected. Not just the games but all sorts of different elements you don’t take into account, like being together for six weeks, trying to keep a positive vibe, keeping the players who didn’t get a game happy.
“They’ve all come through every challenge. I’ve told them how proud I am, how the nation is proud of them and – in a day or so – they’ll be proud of themselves. I am prouder of them than of any team I’ve ever been in charge of. Now theyll go back to Cardiff to a nice welcome and they deserve that.”
Tnen, in a matter of weeks, the merry-go-round will start all over again with the qualifying competition for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Wales, after their Euro achievements, will be favourites to head a group featuring ??.
Complacency will not be a danger.
Coleman said: “We go into the next campaign with the same hunger and desire as in the last two to three years. I’ve loved every minute of it and we need more of that. We’ll give the World Cup campaign a hell of a crack.”
** Wales’ Euro 2016 squad will undertake an open-top bus parade in Cardiff tomorrow/Friday before a presentation at Cardiff City Stadium.
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