Euro 2016: Wales homecoming 'very special', says Gareth Bale

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Gareth Bale gives his reaction to the welcome home in Cardiff

Wales forward Gareth Bale described his side's Euro 2016 homecoming as "very special", as thousands of Welsh fans welcomed their heroes home.

Wales' run to the semi-finals, as they competed in their first major finals since 1958, was their best performance at an international tournament.

Fans greeted the squad at Cardiff airport on Friday before the team took an open-top bus tour through Cardiff.

"It's amazing scenes and we'll never forget," said the Real Madrid man, 26.

"It's very special. Seeing what it means to the whole country and obviously it's nice for us to say a little thank you for supporting us and being there with us for the journey.

"It's an incredible feeling and there is no prouder honour than putting on the red shirt for Wales and to share it with all these fans is incredible."

Cardiff swells with red

Although Wales' involvement at Euro 2016 ended with a 2-0 defeat by Portugal in Lyon on Wednesday, fans say the players' heroics have changed football in the country forever.

The supporters - nicknamed the 'Red Wall' by Wales' players - thronged the streets of the capital on Friday.

"We are just really proud to be Welsh," said midfielder Aaron Ramsey, adding: "To see all the support has been phenomenal.

"Because we have been away from it, we haven't seen the impact it has had back here. We haven't experienced that.

"We have heard from our families and stuff like that, that the atmosphere has been phenomenal, but this is the first time we are experiencing any of this and it is really special."

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Thousands of Wales fans greeted the team at the start of the parade

Chris Coleman's side began Euro 2016 as one of the outsiders but topped Group B, finishing above England despite losing to their neighbours.

They edged past Northern Ireland in the last 16 before upsetting a highly regarded Belgium side 3-1 in the last eight.

Captain Ashley Williams said: "We are so proud of what we have done. We would never have thought it would create this big an impression.

"It is quite emotional really, a feeling of pride at what the lads and the staff have achieved. To celebrate with the fans, it makes you proud."

Bleach blond fans and a dancing Joe

Arsenal player Ramsey was one of his side's star performers in France, and his bleached blond hair will long be associated with Wales' Euro 2016 adventure.

"I am sorry to a lot of parents out there, because their little boys have bleached their hair, but I fancied a change and I suppose it paid off," he said.

One player not in attendance was midfielder Joe Ledley, who is in Ibiza to get married.

The Crystal Palace player has become something of a cult hero with his dance moves going viral on social media during the tournament, but he was not forgotten as his team-mates video messaged him as they drove through Cardiff.

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Highlights: Portugal 2-0 Wales

More to come?

Wales will hope to build on their success when they start their 2018 World Cup campaign at home to Moldova in September.

Austria, Georgia, the Republic of Ireland and Serbia are also in the group and Bale is optimistic his side can perform well on the road to Russia.

"We've definitely fulfilled our potential and I still believe we've got more to give as well," he said.

"We're still quite a young team reasonably and we all still have our primes to come.

"Hopefully we can keep this confidence up and keep growing as a team and there's no reason why we can't achieve more."

Swansea defender Williams added: "We've been together a long time, but will be happy to see each other again in a few weeks and build towards to the World Cup.

"It is massively important we carry it on, we said that at the start of the tournament. We need to use the experience from this campaign and take it into the next tournament."

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