Gareth Bale dismissed talk of his international retirement as he vowed to ‘keep going as long as I can’ following Wales’ World Cup exit at the hands of England.
Bale was taken off at half-time with a suspected injury, with his side still in the game at 0-0 after a resolute and organised defensive performance for 45 minutes.
However, it took just five minutes of second half football for England to take control of the game through Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden as the game quickly ran away from Rob Page’s men in the absence of their leader.
It meant Wales finished Group B bottom with just one point, in what was their first World Cup appearance in 64 years.
Wales’ captain Gareth Bale (middle) was substituted at half-time due to a suspected injury – but he has confirmed he has no plans to retire from international duty after this World Cup exit
But Bale refused to add any fuel to the fire that his days at international tournaments with Wales are now over, with his eyes locked on the next European Championships in Germany in 2024.
‘I’ll keep going as long as I can and as long as I’m wanted,’ he told the BBC.
‘We have a qualifying game starting in March and now a few months away from international football.’
He added: ‘Everyone is disappointed but all proud of getting here and doing something no other Wales team has done and how far we have come.
‘Football is difficult, teams go through good and bad runs and we didn’t live up to our expectations. Going forward we have to look how far we have come.
‘Two years ago we would have pinched ourselves. We all worked really hard to get here but walk out with our heads held high.’
Bale appeared to stretch out his left leg towards the end of the first half before being subbed
Before Bale went off at the break, his influence on proceedings was minimal.
He managed just seven touches before he watched the second half collapse from the bench.
Despite a goal in the opening game with USA, Bale has been criticised for his displays with many pointing to a lack of energy and poor work rate in both games prior to Tuesday’s ‘Battle of Britain’.
No male Welsh player has scored more goals or represented their country than Bale has
The 33-year-old is his country’s all-time record goalscorer and appearance-maker, and arguably the best player Wales has ever produced, but the nation’s support are seemingly beginning to grow frustrated with their hero.
In a below-par showing in Qatar on Tuesday night, Bale managed only seven touches on the ball.
The former Real Madrid forward did not manage a single dribble or shot in the game.
But although he managed only a largely anonymous showing on Tuesday, Bale is still regarded as his side’s most dangerous player, and is a player with greater tournament experience than any of his team-mates.
It is thought that the substitution came as a result of an injury, with Johnson visibly being warmed up before the half-time whistle, and Bale appearing to stretch out his left leg.
Wales’ exit their first World Cup in 64 years at the group stages with defeat to rivals England
Now the LAFC striker is looking ahead – desperate to find the sliver of optimism as Wales now return home.
‘We’ve qualified for three of the last four tournaments and we’re gaining valuable experience, whether we’re doing well in tournaments or doing bad,’ he said.
‘I think you can always learn and progress. We will learn from this and we’ll regroup and go again in March for the next European qualifiers.
‘The one thing this group does is bounce back very well – the characters in there are amazing and the togetherness is always incredible. We would have loved to have done better in this tournament but we’ll go again in March, we’ll be fresh to go and looking forward to qualifying for another major tournament.’
He added: ‘The fans have been incredible, the ones that have travelled, the ones that are at home supporting us through thick and thin.
The 33-year-old confirmed he would continue playing for his country ‘as long as I’m wanted’
‘The one thing they all know is we give 100%, we would have loved to have gone further in this competition but we’ve given everything on the pitch and the fans know that.
‘We appreciate them more than ever and they need to stick with because we go again in March and we look forward to playing at home again.
A 1-1 draw with USA – with Bale the scorer from 12 yards – and a late 2-0 defeat to Iran left Wales needing a 4-0 win over their old rivals in order to make it to the second round. In truth, they never looked like troubling England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
‘Of course we are frustrated, we wanted to play better but it didn’t happen this tournament,’ Bale said.
‘The expectation is always there for us to continue but it has been difficult and we haven’t played very well.
‘We play with our hearts and give everything. I’m sure everyone in Wales appreciates that.’
England scored twice in six minutes following Bale’s half-time departure for Brennan Johnson