Tonight in the battle of Euro underdogs, Portugal take on Wales in the Parc Olympique Lyonnais but to many, this isn’t the battle of underdogs. Instead, it is a fight between two of the world’s greatest players, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
No matter how much the two players may deny it, that is the truth. The rivalry, even though, they both play for Real has been brewing for a while.
Gareth Bale had not even signed for Real Madrid when it was reported that Cristiano Ronaldo was unhappy his club was breaking the world’s transfer record — making the Welshman the most expensive player in football history. Real soothed Ronaldo’s ego by not announcing the exact price they paid for Bale, but it’s no secret that he cost more than the Portuguese star.
And then there was this angry Ronaldo reaction to a Bale goal…
But through all this, Bale has been very professional about his relationship with Ronaldo – gracious even, at times. He has refuted any claims of animosity between him and the superstar No 7. Even on the eve of the Euro 2016 Wales vs Portugal semifinal, Bale played down the comparison:
“It’s not just about two players, it’s about two nations in a semi-final, 11 men against 11 men,” he said.
But here’s the thing… there will be no such favours tonight. This is not Real Madrid, where the two of them operate together in the quest to destroy defences. This is about Wales and Portugal. This is not the Champions League. This is the Euro 2016.
This is not about who assists who for the same club. This is about who scores against the other. About creating new bars of excellence as both players reach a defining point in their career – one of the cusp of greatness, one who has already tasted what it’s like to be on top of the world. One ready to hit his peak while the other seems to have fallen off it.
Because tonight, Bale has the chance to end the chase and finish off the prey. To finally prove, that he has got better and through the years not just caught up with Ronaldo – but even surpassed him as a footballer.
2016 has been a roller-coaster ride for Ronaldo – he lost the World’s Best Player’s crown to Lionel Messi, his movie (advertisement) launched, he threw fits with Rafa Benitez as coach – laughing at his contribution to his freekicks, turned a corner under Zinedine Zidane and won a third Champions League title, scoring the decisive penalty.
Bale, on the other hand, has been on fire for Wales. He has scored two free kicks and added another dinked finish to set records ablaze in the group stage. He drives his team forward with his powerful runs, as the lesser names around him raise their game. The sheer example he provides has helped this Wales side outperform any other in the past. When they win, there are tears of joy – and Bale is amid that huddle, embracing his team in delirious delight.
Apart from the five-year age difference, it is this delight which sets him apart from Ronaldo, who seems to have lost some joy from his game.
There is a fundamental difference between the two – for Bale, it will always be about the team. For Ronaldo, the team will always be about himself.
Wales will be without their talisman Aaron Ramsey – Bale will have to lead from the front, again. If he manages to do so, he will go a long way to prove that he is not just as good, but even better, than Ronaldo. Because CR7 has never been so vulnerable.