Gareth Bale has branded Wales’ Euro 2016 quarterfinal clash with Belgium on Friday as the nation’s biggest game in decades.
Having ended a 58-year wait to reach a major tournament, Chris Coleman’s men have already matched the achievement of the 1958 team who reached the World Cup quarterfinals in Sweden before they were knocked out by a Pele goal for Brazil.
“Yes, I think it is fair to say it could be the biggest ever game for Wales, especially during my time and recent times,” said the Real Madrid star.
“We know about the quarterfinal in 1958 but since then it’s definitely the biggest game in Welsh football.”
“It is one we’re looking forward to, eager to get started and excited about. We just want to enjoy the occasion, take it all in, and hopefully we can get into the semis,” Bale added.
“We don’t need extra motivation, they are a very good team, we understand that, their goal is to win the Euros.”
“They see every team they play as a stepping stone to the final. That’s not disrespectful, that’s their opinion. We’re happy about that.”
“But it’s about us, concentrating on ourselves and trying to execute our game plan. We’ve beaten them before so it can be done again.”
Wales are the last of the British nations remaining in the competition after knocking out Northern Ireland in the last 16, while England capitulated to lose to minnows Iceland.
It means Wales will be the focus of UK attention when they take to the field in Lille. Bale and his colleagues are delighted to have the chance to fly the flag for British football as well as themselves.
“We very happy, it’s our time to shine. We’re the only home nation left in the competition which is an amazing achievement in itself,” he said.
“The Northern Ireland game was a very ugly one that was not suited to us but to win a game like that shows the team spirit and character we’ve got.”
“We’re very happy and proud to fly the flag of Wales on this stage.”
Wales have plenty of experience of facing Belgium, with the two sides having met four times in the last four years.
The Dragons are unbeaten in the last three of those games, picking up a famous win over the Red Devils in Cardiff last June.
Bale scored the winner that night and believes it was an epochal moment for the entire Welsh set-up.
“It was my most important Welsh goal, for sure, especially at that time in the campaign,” he said.
“We were in and around top spot and very close. In a way, it gave us that space between us and everyone else, an extra two points we didn’t expect.
“So it was an important goal for me personally on my 50th cap and, for the team, obviously it also gave us that belief that we can take on the big teams, that we can beat the big teams.
“We have evolved since there and we have improved.”