FOOTBALL: Gareth Bale says his Wales is in it to win it at the European Championship and not just making up the numbers.
As it stands the Welsh are among the last 16 to advance in France. But the 26-year-old Real Madrid superstar winger is determined to progress further – starting with a win over Northern Ireland tonight to reach the quarter-finals.
“Obviously you come to the tournament for one reason – to win, not to play three games and go home,” said Bale, who was the joint top-scorer with three goals in the group stage.
“The ultimate goal is we want to try and win the tournament.
“It’s a cliche but we’ll take each one as it comes. Yes, we would love to win it, but all our focus now is on Northern Ireland.”
Wales, which topped Group B, is undefeated in its past eight games against its British rivals, having won four and drawn four.
That said, in what will be the first meeting between the two in the knockout stages of a major tournament, Bale is wary of the Northern Irelanders, who progressed as one of the four best third-placed sides.
“They have very similar team spirit to us,” Bale said. “They are a bit more defensive than us – it will be difficult to break them down, but we will try our best.”
Northern Ireland forward Kyle Lafferty certainly expects the tables to turn from the countries’ recent outings.
“We honestly believe with our heart and determination that we can beat anyone,” Lafferty said.
“With the squad we have I honestly am sitting here thinking we can go all the way. If we get a bit of luck we can upset a few teams.”
Lafferty said the key to victory was stopping the influence of Bale.
“Stopping Bale is the big question. He’s a very big part of their team, as a player of that calibre is going to be. We’ll look at areas where they are strong and areas that we can exploit.
“It’ll be interesting to see who it wants it most on Saturday. I believe we’ll come out on top.”
Tonight’s last-16 games draw: Switzerland v Poland 11pm; Wales v Northern Ireland 2am; Croatia v Portugal 5am.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.