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Red Dragon inspires Bale ahead of Belgium showdown

Football Soccer - Euro 2016 - Wales News Conference - COSEC Stadium, Dinard, France - 29/6/16 Wales' Gareth Bale signs autographs as he leaves the news conference. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
Football Soccer - Euro 2016 - Wales News Conference - COSEC Stadium, Dinard, France - 29/6/16 Wales' Gareth Bale signs autographs as he leaves the news conference. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

DINARD, France (Reuters) - Gareth Bale, the world's most expensive fooballer, said the Welsh Dragon on his shirt provides his prime motivation as the team prepare for what he believes is their biggest game for nearly 60 years at Euro 2016 on Friday.

With neighbours England still conducting a post-mortem over their embarrassing exit, Bale is delighted that Wales are the last team from Britain still in the tournament, praising their togetherness before the quarter-final against Belgium.

"I'm very happy we're the last home nation left. It's our time to shine," he said. "We've already got one over England. We're very happy and proud to fly the flag.

"We know about the 1958 quarter-final [in the World Cup against Brazil] but since then it's the biggest game, one we're looking forward to and excited about."

Asked what his motivation was, Bale, who cost Real Madrid 90 million pounds ($121.50 million) and is reported to earn around 250,000 pounds ($337,500.00) per week at Real Madrid, replied: "The Dragon on my shirt. That's all I need."

Bale has arguably had the biggest impact of any player in ensuring a quarter-final berth for his team.

In qualifying, he played a major part in Wales' 11 goals, scoring seven and setting up two. He has scored three of their seven goals in France and set up the own goal against Northern Ireland in the group stage.

Yet Bale bats off suggestions that Wales are a one-man team, or even a two-man if you include their other star, Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey.

"We've got fantastic players all the way through," he said. "We know we have more than two good players, we've a very good team and we're not in the last eight for no reason.”

One of Bale's goals in qualifying came in the 1-0 win over Belgium, a result he said gives his side confidence in Friday's rematch.

"We've beaten them before and we're happy with that. It's my most important Welsh goal, especially at the time," he said.

Bale said that victory had played an important part in the team's progress to unchartered territory.

"Yes, from beating Belgium -- No.2 in the world at time -- it gives you extra confidence and takes you to the next level," he said. "We've gone up a level and taken our game on."

"Playing more games and gelling even more makes you better. It was a changing moment for us as a team and we're still riding off the confidence.”

If Belgium manager Marc Wilmots is to be believed, Bale should not expect to be man-marked on Friday, a potentially risky strategy against a player who has proved such a destructive force for his team.

Bale is not predicting victory, but he does believe Belgium will face a unified team who are quite capable of reaching their first tournament semifinal.

"Our strength is togetherness," he said. "If someone gives the ball away we'll hunt it together -- everyone does their share. We know our strengths and exactly what needs to be done."

($1 = 0.7407 pounds)

(Reporting by Neil Robinson. Editing by Adrian Warner.)

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