Dinard (France): Gareth Bale will have the taunts of teammates past and present echoing in his memory when he takes to the field for Wales in tonight's Euro 2016 semi-final against Portugal.
Bale saw five major tournaments come and go over the first 10 years of his career, but with Wales having ended their 58-year wait on the international sidelines, the 26-year-old is making up for lost time.
Chris Coleman's side have created a sensation by reaching the last four in France and it has given Bale reason to recall with a smile some past jibes. "I have had a lot of abuse over the years," the Real Madrid forward told reporters here on Monday.
Ranked 100 not long ago
"Just when we used to lose and when we were (ranked) 100th in the world. You have nine weeks' holiday instead of two. It is good to finally be in a major tournament, actually doing great things with our national team."
Portugal striker Cristiano Ronaldo (left) is tackled by teammate Ricardo Quaresma during a training session in Marcoussis, near Paris on the eve of their Euro 2016 semi-final against Wales in Lyon tonight. Pics/Getty Images
Should Bale reach the final, he could find himself facing Germany midfielder Toni Kroos, his Madrid teammate, who took a dim view of Wales' chances prior to the tournament. "I remember Toni Kroos saying we'd only have three games. So. it will be nice if we meet him in the final," Bale said with a smile.
"It was a good laugh and a joke, a bit of banter. But we've exceeded a lot of people's expectations. We understand that and we're enjoying it."
Wales' 3-1 win over Belgium in the quarter-finals took the team past their previous best major tournament showing of a last-eight finish at the 1958 World Cup. But Bale says that the atmosphere within the Wales camp is "exactly the same", with regular quizzes helping prevent the pressure on players.
Delayed holiday plans
Having arrived in France after a second Champions League triumph with Madrid, Bale had his eyes on the final from the start — unlike some of his teammates, who had to rearrange holiday and even wedding plans as Wales voyaged deeper into the tournament. "I fully believed we could do something. That's why I booked my holiday for the 11th (the day after the final). I am not like the others," he said.
> Portugal have played Wales only thrice in over 50 years.
1) 1949: Portugal 3-2 Wales
2) 1951: Wales 2-1 Portugal
3) 2000: Portugal 3-0 Wales
> Portugal's last six matches in Euro finals have ended in draws after 90 minutes — five at Euro 2016 & a 0-0 draw vs Spain at Euro 2012 which they later lost via
> Cristiano Ronaldo will become the first man to play in three Euro
> This is Wales' first major semi-final in any UEFA or FIFA tournament at any level for men or women