Wales manager Chris Coleman heaped praise on his players for a historic run to the Euro 2016 semifinals after they bowed out 2-0 to Portugal on Wednesday.
Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring and then teed up Nani as two goals in three minutes early in the second half in Lyon condemned Wales to defeat in their first ever major tournament semifinal.
“It hurts that we lost the semifinal. The players are gutted, but they need to look back and see they have done their country proud,” said Coleman.
“They could only give what they had and we looked a bit tired tonight.”
“We never really found our momentum when we had possession, but you have to give Portugal credit. They defended deep and killed our space.”
Ronaldo made the difference by equalling Michel Platini’s record of nine goals in European Championship finals matches to open the scoring.
Coleman admitted that Wales had failed to respond to the blow of conceding first.
“That first goal was going to be crucial,” he said.
“We just lost our concentration for five minutes and when you are up against the quality in the semifinal of a tournament like this, Portugal unfortunately ... capitalised on that.”
“We’ve done plenty of winning. Tonight it is our turn to lose, but congratulations to Portugal and I hope they go on to win the tournament.”
Wales were missing in-form midfielder Aaron Ramsey through suspension, as well as defender Ben Davies, but Coleman defended Ramsey’s replacement, Andy King, and suggested that fatigue had been a decisive factor.
‘Hunger and desire’
“I think anybody is going to miss Aaron Ramsey, especially the way he has been playing,” Coleman said. “But it is about the squad. I was delighted with Andy King.”
“We were a little bit tired tonight. Balo (Gareth Bale) is a human being. He worked his socks off and tried everything to get us back in the game.”
“I’m proud of all of them. Sometimes we don’t get what we want in terms of performance, but we also have to look at the opposition, because the opposition played very well.”
“I find it difficult to look at our lads and say we could have got some more out of them. We came up short tonight, but predominantly with this bunch of lads, we don’t come up short.”
Wales can expect a heroes’ welcome when they return to Cardiff at the end of the week and Coleman pledged that they would be ready for the start of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in September.
“This is not the end for this group. These players will be together a lot longer than I am as manager,” he said.
“We’ve come through some huge challenges and when we look back, it is great experience. It is completely different to what we expected (being at a tournament) -- it is not just the game and preparing the game.”
“You don’t know what it is like unless you’ve been together for six or seven weeks. You have to keep a positive vibe even with the players who haven’t been playing.”
“We’ve faced all sorts of challenges, but I’m so proud of them. A nation’s proud of them. In a day or so, they’ll be proud of themselves.”
“We know what we are good at. We’ve got to go into the next campaign with the same hunger and we need to focus on having the same hunger and desire of these (past) two or three years.”
“I’m prouder of this team than any team I’ve been involved in. I think they will go back to Cardiff to a nice welcome and they deserve that.”