Gareth Bale says Wales’ march to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 has ended the years of “abuse” he has had to endure from club team-mates.
Real Madrid forward Bale is usually on his summer holidays when major tournaments are held, but not this time with Wales playing Portugal on Wednesday for a place in the final.
And Bale admits he hopes if Wales do get through then it is Germany, and not their last-four opponents France, who are waiting for them in the Paris final on Sunday.
“I remember Toni Kroos (Real Madrid team-mate) saying we’d only have three games here,” said Bale.
“So it would be nice to meet him in the final.
“It was a good laugh and a joke – a bit of banter – but I’ve had a lot of abuse over the years.
“When we used to lose and we were 100th in the world, people would say ‘you have nine weeks holiday instead of two’.
“So it’s great to finally be in a major tournament actually doing great things with our national team.”
Chris Coleman’s team have already gone further in a major tournament than any other Wales side in history.
The 3-1 victory over Belgium eclipsed the achievement of the 1958 side, who reached the quarter-final of the World Cup in Sweden.
But Bale stressed there was always belief in the squad that they could cause a huge upset in France this summer.
“We’ve obviously exceeded a lot of people’s expectations, we understand that,” said Bale.
“But we always believed we could go all the way – you see the fairytale of Greece and Denmark in the past and you think why can’t we do it?
“We grew as a team in qualifying and we’ve just grown more throughout the tournament.
“The England game we learned from our mistakes of not passing the ball.
“When we’ve had to win ugly we’ve won ugly, and when we’ve had to play football we’ve played football.”
Some members of the Wales camp have been caught out by their remarkable run to the last four.
Chris Gunter will miss his brother’s wedding in Mexico on Thursday, while midfielder Joe Ledley was due to get married in Ibiza on Saturday, but has now postponed his big day.
Bale’s confidence that Wales would make the final is reflected by the fact he did not book his summer holidays until the Euros were over.
“I fully believed that we could do something, that is why I booked my holiday for the 11th. I am not like the others,” laughed Bale.
“We gained a lot of confidence, especially from the Belgium game in qualifying.
“We felt we could beat the big teams and we have grown from there.
“We learned a lot from the first two games against Slovakia and England, we have really progressed since then and got a lot more confident.”
And Bale does not believe the pressure will get to Wales now they are in the last four and within touching distance of the final.
“The atmosphere’s exactly the same, we’re still joking around and having a laugh,” said Bale.
“We’re still doing our quizzes – my team has won six in a row now – and there is still the same spirit.
“There’s no fear in the group and we’re just enjoying the ride. It’s a great journey to be on.”