Wales ended its memorable run at the European Championship tired, full of pride and serenaded by devoted fans. When the Welsh national anthem, Land of My Fathers, reverberated one more time long after the final whistle, the Portugal fans who stayed after their team’s 2-0 victory in the semifinals applauded the sea of red shirts that still filled the other end of the stadium in Lyon.
”I’m prouder of this team than any team I’ve ever been involved in, because I know what they’ve sacrificed to get to this stage,” Wales coach Chris Coleman said. ”I’ve told them how proud I am of them, and the nation is proud of them.”
Wales goes home having won four games at Euro 2016, and topped its group. A Portugal team that placed third in its group, and won in 90 minutes for the first time on Wednesday, goes on to the final.
”We’ve done plenty of winning, now it’s our turn to lose. It’s not a nice feeling,” said Coleman, adding that he hoped Portugal went on to win the title on Sunday, against France or Germany.
Cristiano Ronaldo added to the mutual admiration.
Wales had been ”a shining star here, they were the revelation team,” said the Portugal forward, who scored the opening goal early in the second half, and then provided the assist for Nani’s strike three minutes later.
”We just lost our concentration just for five minutes,” Coleman acknowledged. ”You’re going to get punished. And unfortunately they capitalized on that.
”We were a little bit tired tonight,” the coach said, refusing to blame the loss of two key players to suspensions. Influential midfielder Aaron Ramsey and defender Ben Davies each collected second yellow cards of the tournament in the 3-1 win over Belgium in the quarterfinals.
Still, the replacements were excellent in the first half, especially James Collins in place of Davies. The ginger-bearded, shaven-headed Collins had a Viking-like look that called to mind Iceland’s robust spirit at Euro 2016.
Collins had physically dominated Ronaldo in the air early on, while Andy King began by filling the Ramsey role as an attacking threat deep in Portugal’s penalty area while doing tidy defensive duties.
The absence of Davies, however, pushed James Chester over to the left side of a three-man central defense – and that is where Ronaldo found space to hurt Wales.
Wales star Gareth Bale responded by throwing himself more vigorously into the challenge, earning a late yellow card for a high boot into the face of Portugal defender Cedric Soares.
”He was trying everything to get us back into the game,” Coleman said of his talisman player with the team-first ethic.
Coleman believes Wales broke through a psychological barrier, playing at a first tournament in 58 years. Now he wants his players to show the same hunger and desire to qualify for the 2018 World Cup from a group that includes Austria and Ireland.
”I think we will give the World Cup campaign a hell of a crack,” the coach said.