Wales and Portugal clash tonight in the first semi-final of Euro 2016 and the game throws up a fascinating individual battle with two Real Madrid heroes going toe-to-toe; Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
12 years ago on home soil, Portugal looked set to become one of the powerhouses of world football and were inspired by the young talents of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo. At 19-years-old, CR7 had the world at his feet.
It seemed inevitable that Ronaldo would enjoy success across the football game but, whilst he has won a wealth of trophies and personal accolades for his club career, international titles have slipped him by. Now, at 31, time is running out.
The European Championships in France have given Ronaldo and Portugal a great chance of success but they’ve far from been firing all cylinders. Reaching the last four of the tournament is always an accomplishment but the fact Portugal are yet to win a game in ninety minutes raises concerns.
Meanwhile, Los Blancos colleague Gareth Bale is going from strength-to-strength and is doing exactly what Ronaldo has struggled to accomplish; being the main attacking outlet for his side, becoming a star of the tournament and, of course, scoring free-kicks.
Wales’ thrilling quarter-final victory over Belgium showed that they are capable of overcoming some of the better sides at the tournament and that result has put them as favourites in the eyes of many heading into tonight’s clash with Portugal.
Bale has been extremely influential, scoring three goals and providing an additional assist. Ronaldo has two goals and two assists but, with Portugal struggling to get the job done in regular time, it’s clear that Bale’s significance is far superior.
‘For years, Ronaldo’s only competitor at the top has been Lionel Messi but now he faces competition from a man he knows well.’
Whilst Bale makes the headlines on the pitch, it’s perhaps what’s going on away from the field that suggests a power shift is well underway in the Spanish capital.
Amidst Bale’s fantastic performances, media speculation has suggested Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is ready to make Bale the biggest star at the club by handing him a seven year ‘contract for life’, which would dethrone Ronaldo in the Spanish capital.
It shows how much things have changed in the three-years since Bale has moved to the Santiago Bernabeu, as the Spanish giants hid the details of his world-record transfer from Tottenham Hotspur in order to keep Ronaldo, and his ego, happy.
Now, with Bale on top-form and having years ahead of him with Real Madrid, the 26-year-old seems set to take the mantle of star-man with the Champions League winners and it leaves Ronaldo not only battling for international success this evening but also fighting for the position as figurehead of a side he’s starred for in the past seven years.
Wales, and Bale, have set Euro 2016 alight and enter the game with little pressure, as the nation will be thrilled with how far they’ve come. For Ronaldo and Portugal, the situation couldn’t be more different as a failure to lift the title would raise questions as to what has gone wrong in the past decade for A Selecao.