Gareth Bale delighted to win ‘ugly’ with Wales as they reach Euro 2016 quarter-finals
Northern Ireland were the better team despite 1-0 loss, says Real Madrid star
Wales star Gareth Bale said his side had been happy to win “ugly” after they edged British rivals Northern Ireland 1-0 to reach the Euro 2016 quarter-finals on Saturday.
Bale is the tournament’s top scorer with three goals, but he was kept at bay by Michael O’Neill’s side at Parc des Princes in Paris until the 75th minute, when his cross produced an own goal by Gareth McAuley.
“What can I say? We knew it was going to be an ugly match,” Bale said.
“Northern Ireland made it difficult to play. There was not much space up front. You can’t ask for anymore. It’s incredible.”
Wales will now play either Belgium, who they faced in qualifying, or Hungary in Lille on Friday for a place in the semi-finals.
“It’s amazing,” said Wales manager Chris Coleman, whose side finished above England -- another British foe -- as winners of Group B.
“First and foremost commiserations to Northern Ireland. We showed a lot of heart and courage. The good thing about these boys when we’re not playing well is that they have spirit.
“And at times we were hanging on. I’d rather be standing here in the quarter-final not playing at our best.
“We have to give credit to Northern Ireland -- they made it very difficult to play against. They were the better team. We have to plan for the next game, whoever it is. We’ll enjoy this tonight.”
Northern Ireland manager O’Neill described his team’s elimination as “devastating” and said his side had deserved to go through.
“It’s devastating. We were the better team on the day,” O’Neill said. “I couldn’t ask anything more of the players throughout the tournament.”
McAuley faced a dilemma, O’Neill said.
“Gareth McAuley knows he has to make one of those decisions on the cross. He had to judge whether there was someone behind him or not,” said the coach.
Competition debutants, Northern Ireland had qualified as the third-best team in Group C, beating Ukraine 2-0 but losing 1-0 to Poland and world champions Germany.