Chris Coleman spoke of his pride as Cardiff came to a standstill to welcome home Wales’ Euro 2016 heroes.
An estimated 200,000 people lined the streets of the Welsh capital as the fans came out in force to recognise the achievements of Coleman’s squad.
Wales’ French adventure was ended by a 2-0 defeat to Portugal in Lyon on Wednesday but, having failed to qualify for a major tournament for 58 years, the country now has the distinction of being the smallest nation by population to reach the semi-finals of the European Championship.
“We are very proud because this doesn’t happen for no reason,” said manager Coleman.
“We know if we give our nation something to be proud of this is the end result.
“But we are in the middle of something, not the end. We are in the middle of an experience which is very good.
“We need that little bit of luck, the same hunger and desire and good things will happen.”
The Wales squad had left their Brittany base in Dinard yesterday morning for the final time ahead of their homecoming party.
After hundreds of supporters greeted them at Cardiff Airport – renamed Cardiff Bale Airport for the day in honour of Wales star Gareth Bale – the squad signed autographs and had pictures taken with fans before boarding a bus taking them into the city centre.
Emblazoned on the side of the bus were the words ‘Diolch (Thank you). Together We Are Stronger’ – illustrating the close bond between players and supporters.
The open-top bus parade started its journey from Cardiff Castle and took over an hour to travel the few miles to Cardiff City Stadium, Wales’ home ground.
The players were clearly taken aback by their reception as the bus snaked its way through the streets of the capital.
“To get a welcome like this was incredible. It shows how amazing our fans are,” said Bale.
“The support we’ve had has given us that extra confidence to move on to the next level. Everything we’ve achieved we could haven’t done it without everyone here. We fought hard to qualify, all through the games we kept progressing and getting better as a team.
“We knew what we were capable of after getting to France, we said we didn’t want to make the numbers up.
“We wanted to give it a real go - and we got ahead of the English!”