Chris Coleman expressed pride in his Wales players as they recovered from a “crushing defeat” to England to end up winning their group at Euro 2016.
Wales were fourth seeds when the Group B draw was made, but goals by Aaron Ramsey, Neil Taylor and Gareth Bale gave them a 3-0 victory over Russia and took them to the top as England played out a goalless draw with Slovakia.
Coleman’s side will now head to Paris on Saturday to take on one of the teams who have finished third, which could possibly be Northern Ireland.
“As a nation geographically we’re small, but I think if you’re judging us on passion then we could be described as a continent tonight, because that was amazing,” said Wales manager Coleman.
“We knew our group would be tough and it was because it was all down to the last game.
“To win it was great and I’ve got to say how proud I am of the performance of the players.
“I thought they were tremendous, so brave in possession, we had a lot of chances, and on the back of such a crushing defeat against England four days earlier.
“I think that says a lot about our players that they were able to produce that type of performance.”
Russia needed to win to qualify for the knock-out stage of the tournament.
But Ramsey and Taylor scored within the opening 20 minutes and Bale became the tournament’s top goalscorer with his third strike in as many games.
Bale might have had a hat-trick but it was an all-round team performance which blew Russia away.
Asked if that had disproved the theory that Wales were a one-man team, Coleman said: “If you’ve got a player like Gareth Bale who plays for Real Madrid and scores the goals he does I don’t mind people saying that.
“I can understand that. At times he has won games doing something extraordinary but anyone who’s played football knows you need team spirit.
“I can see why people call us a one-man team because he’s the guy who scores great goals and he is a great player.
“He understands the help he gets around him from his team-mates, he enjoys the style of play we’ve implemented.
“If we’re honest, he’s probably played a lot better for us – but it looked as if it was a matter of time before he scored.”
Wales – who played in red after ‘home’ team Russia agreed to change to their white strip – might now be labelled favourites to make the quarter-final stage.
But Coleman said the team would not be getting carried away by the manner in which they reached the last 16.
“Three games ago we lost 3-0 against Sweden,” said Coleman.
“Football can change really quickly, you really are king for a day.
“We will enjoy tonight, of course, but we’re not a country that’s been at tournament after tournament, semi-finals, finals.
“This is new to us and our boys know that unless we’re maxing out we don’t get results. If we’re maxing out and at our best, then we’ve always got a chance.”
Slutsky quits as Russia coach
Russia coach Leonid Slutsky said the defeat would be his final game in charge.
Slutsky, who replaced Fabio Capello last August and rekindled Russia’s qualification hopes for Euro 2016, said someone else should take over ahead of the country hosting the 2018 World Cup.
“It is truly my mistake,” said Slutsky, whose contract expires at the end of the tournament.
“I don’t want to focus on the players, I would rather talk about my responsibility.
“After a tournament like this you need someone else to take charge of the national side, to take care and develop this side.
“This squad will play in the 2018 World Cup and I hope it will be a positive experience.
“It was great when we qualified, we won our last four matches to make this tournament and enjoy this experience, but my best here was not good enough.”