Bale on facing Portugal, Ronaldo and being in a Euro semi-final
Gareth Bale spoke before Wales face Portugal in the Euro 2016 semi-final, having beaten Northern Ireland and Belgium en route to their biggest ever game.
Wales star Gareth Bale spoke ahead of his country's historic semi-final Euro 2016 clash with Portugal to discuss how Wales are facing up to the biggest game of international football they've ever played, and how much impact Bale and his Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo will have on the game:
Realistically what did you think about Wales' chances in the tournament? Have you surpassed your expectations?
It’s a difficult one to answer, because ultimately we want to win the tournament, and we always said we have goals: first of all we want to get out of the group and then we take it step by step, we always believed we could go all the way. You see the likes of Greece, Denmark and teams like that, which have done it before so we always believed, but doing it is another thing.
And I just think we’ve grown through the tournament in confidence. From the England game we learned from our mistakes... of not passing the ball. The pitch wasn’t the greatest that day, in terms of there was no water on it. We’ve just grown through the tournament, and when we’ve had to win ugly we’ve won ugly, when we’ve had to play football we’ve played football, and at the crucial times we’ve come up with the goods.
Has the mentality changed now, because it’s very tangible, it’s very realistic. Does that have any impact on the players or are you so focused it won’t have any impact?
No, I don’t feel like it will. The atmosphere is exactly the same. We’re still joking around and having a laugh, we’re still doing our quizzes. Won again today. Six in a row now. [Laughs]. We [Bale's team] are on fire.
In the quizzes are you identifying [blurred out] Portuguese players?
No just from the Premier. So it’s still the same spirit, we’re not feeling the pressure. We’re just trying to enjoy the occasion, there’s no fear in the group, and the manager’s keeping everything cool. So we’re just enjoying the ride. And it’s a great journey to be on.
Does it even feel like you’re in the semi-final? A lot of the fans are in disbelief. It doesn’t seem real.
In a way it doesn’t and maybe that’s working in our favour because we’re not thinking it’s a massive game in the semi-final, so for us we’re preparing well and we’re just doing what we need to do, what we’ve always done. And we’re not changing what’s not broken.
We saw you warming up on your own earlier Gareth. Is it right you’ve got one of the Real Madrid physios here with you? Can you talk about that and how much of a help that’s been?
Obviously I had a few injuries this year and obviously coming to a big tournament, I haven’t experienced this before so if there was a problem, just to make sure I’m fully fit and if I have a problem I can get fixed straight away. It’s been a massive help for me and even the medical staff here, are needing it more because they didn’t want to take any of the others out for so long and leave any of the other boys without time for treatment so it was a good decision all round and it’s working well.
You don’t need to divide his time between you and Cristiano?
Haha. No, he's just for me.
Is the Ronaldo thing annoying you, because it’s such a big spotlight on the battle between you and Ronaldo?
It’s not annoying me. It’s irrelevant to be honest. Everyone talks about me and Ronaldo but it’s Wales v Portugal and both of us could not have a kick all game and the team will still win. It’s really not about us. It’s about the team. I know the press will hype it up like that but I know full well that it’s about us as a team. As I’ve said, the team is the star. We work together, as a unit. Ultimately that’s how we’ve been getting our results and that’s how we’ll continue to do so.
Did you talk to Cristiano before the tournament about the prospect of the sides meeting?
No. I remember Toni, Toni Kroos, saying we’d only have three games. So it’ll be nice to meet him in the final [laughs]. It was a good laugh, a bit of banter. We’ve obviously exceeded a lot of people’s expectations which we understand and we’re just enjoying it now.
Has it been nice to be in a dressing room [at Real Madrid] where before you’d have had other players going away [to tournaments] and you’d have been planning your holidays? Has it been nice to be part of the whole thing this year?
Yes, I’ve had a lot of abuse over the years [laughs], so it’s good to be finally into a major tournament and to be doing great things with our national team. It’s great to be a part of it. We’ve loved every moment of it and we’ll continue to do that.
What sort of abuse have you had over the years?
Just about when we used to lose, and how we were 100th in the world… ‘you have nine weeks holiday instead of two’. Just the normal stuff.
I wanted to ask about the free-kicks, Ronaldo’s and yours. They are two different styles of shooting. What do you think about it?
They are different. Different feet for a start. He has his own style, I have mine. There’s not much more to say.
Gareth, the big surprises of this tournament have been Wales and Iceland, have you been watching Iceland?
Yes, we’ve been watching pretty much all the games, they are on in our TV room. We like to get together to watch them, and yes, Iceland has been an amazing journey. Even if last night obviously wasn’t the result they wanted. But they were 4-0 down and they fought, and their fans were incredible, it’s nice to see lesser teams doing well and growing and giving everything on the pitch and I’m sure everyone in Iceland is proud of their team and I’m sure the same for us as well.
Do you think this has gone beyond football now back home in Wales. In that you and the team have done more for the country than any marketing campaign. People have seen the flag for the first time, heard the language for the first time. Do you get a sense of that or are you wrapped up in a little bubble?
Yes, we are wrapped up in a little bubble to be honest. We understand what’s going on back home, maybe not so much in the world, but I’m sure we’ll reflect on it in the future and look at that kind of thing and after the tournament… but the most important thing for us now is to concentrate more than ever on this tournament and try to leave everything else on the back burner and for after the tournament, but obviously yes, it’s amazing that we’re putting Wales on the map, we’re putting Wales where we think we belong and hopefully we can keep improving as well.
Has the boss asked you for any tips on Cristiano?
Not at all. No.
Yeah. If he needed, but I’m sure our scout does his homework well, he’s been doing it very well. Everybody knows what Cristiano is about, what Pepe is about, so I’m sure the world knows enough about those two.
Gareth, were you invited to Ledley’s wedding?
No. None of us. No. Well none of us are going now anyway! Haha. So it makes no difference.
When you said after the Champions League final that you were going to go and win the European Championships with Wales, what was going through your head? Were you just excited? Or did you seriously think you could really do something?
I fully believed we could do something! You see the fairytale of Greece and Denmark and you think, why can’t we do it? I felt in qualifying we grew up as a team. We gained a lot of confidence, especially from the Belgium game. We felt like we could beat the big teams. Even in this tournament, the Slovakia game was a bit tentative Is suppose. We played well but we didn’t play to our potential. The England game was a disappointing one for us, we didn’t play our own game, we got sucked into it a bit much, but the pitch didn’t help us. But we really learnt a lot from those two games and since then we’ve really progressed, we’ve got a lot more confident again and it’s just kept growing the more and more we’ve got the results.
Was losing to England the best thing that could happen to you, because you went back on the coach, the music went back up loud and you went back to this thing of ‘we’re here to have a good time’, and it made you mature instantly…
I wouldn’t say the result. I think it was the performance more than anything. Our identity is passing the ball. We did it in qualifying, we know we can defend, but we really do play well. We get on the ball and we keep possession. But that’s the one thing that disappointed us more than anything about the England game was that we didn’t keep possession. I think the pitch didn’t get watered before the game, or before the warm up so it was very difficult to pass the ball like we like to do. So I think that more than anything, not keeping the ball so well is what we learnt and the result obviously hurt, but we’re a strong enough team and have strong enough characters to bounce back from a result like that. It’s just the way we didn’t keep the ball was what we learnt most and I think you saw in the Russia game the difference and we learnt from that.
Have you been out and done anything this week?
No, I think everyone has been so tired. It’s mainly been about recovery and trying to prepare for the game as best we can. As I said we’re having quizzes and we’re joking around, watching the games, having a joke and a laugh. We don’t feel like we need to go for burgers and chips…
Without being disrespectful to the other players, you are someone who has played huge semi-finals before. Will you talk to them about that experience and about how it’s one game and it’s so close yet so far. You’re forgotten if you don’t get there, if you get there it’s completely different.
If they want advice of course I’ll give it, but I think everybody knows what needs to be done. We’re in a situation now where we got ourselves here and we’re going to enjoy it. We don’t feel like there’s any pressure. We feel like we can go out and enjoy it and express ourselves and in that instance we don’t feel like we need advice or experience. We’re just going to try and enjoy it like we have been doing in every other game.
The emphasis has been taking things match by match from you and Chris Coleman as well, but now you are so close to the final, when you are watching the other teams, like France and Germany, are you thinking that could be us at the Stade de France… can you keep the focus?
Definitely, that’s the most important thing, keeping the focus, it’s to stick with the same process we have had all the way through and we are a lot closer than we were a couple of weeks ago. It’s even more important now that we focus on this game and not look to the final, ’cos if our minds start to wander then you’re going to lose the game, by not concentrating on the job in hand. So now more than ever we’re concentrating on what needs to be done. We’ll be doing our homework, our game plan and their strengths and weaknesses like we always have done and we’ll stick with our routine.
This has been hailed as the best ever performance by a Wales national team. Is there more to come?
We hope so, we’ve already had meetings on what we can improve on still. We understand we played a very good game against an incredible team, against Belgium, but we still want to keep progressing, we want to keep improving. And if we can just improve those little ‘percenters’ all the way through and keep improving then it’s only going to help our game. You can always improve in football no matter what level you are at. And that’s definitely what we’ll keep trying to do as a team.