Euro 2016: The clash of the Madrid’s Galacticos
Gareth Bales reveres his Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, but it is the Welshman who has looked more convincing in the Euro Cup so far - who will dominate when Wales and Portugal meet at Lyon in the first semifinal?
Sandeep Kumar Delhi
It was in early September 2013 that Real Madrid officially completed the prolonged transfer of Gareth Bale for an undisclosed amount from Tottenham Hotspur; a new era of stardom had begun. The English media announced a world record transfer fee of €100 million whereas the Spanish media reported an amount of €91 million, three million less than the amount Real Madrid had paid for Cristiano Ronaldo, their biggest star of the decade. Later, the documents related to the transfer were leaked and Bale was officially confirmed as the world’s most expensive player. He was only 24 then.
He arrived in Madrid with a big smile, to play with some of the best footballers and coaches in the world. Despite having a world record under his belt, he knew he had to play around the aura of a bigger star, who, at that time, had already scored 202 goals in 202 matches for the club.
“Ronaldo is the boss here. He’s the main player and the best player in the world. I want to learn off him. I want to help the team. I don’t think I need to help him because he’s already proved that he is the best in the world.”
Bale started the 2013-14 season amidst injuries and a dearth of match practice. The delayed mid-season transfer definitely affected his performance and it took more than five months for him to start firing at the Santiago Bernabeu. Despite scoring in bits and parts, the Bale moment of stardom finally arrived in the 2014 Copa Del Rey Final. With Cristiano Ronaldo sidelined by knee and thigh injuries, Bale had to do something extraordinary to match the potential of Lionel Messi and Neymar in the opposition, and he did. In the eighty sixth minute, when the scores were level at 1-1, he outsprinted Marc Bartra from the halfway line, ran off the field to overtake the defender, and slid the ball past the goalkeeper to record one of the best goals of his career. Fans at Madrid and across the globe got a glimpse of what Bale could do if he was given more space in the center. Bale also scored in extra time to put Real Madrid up 2-1 in the finals of the UEFA Champions League, the same year. Ronaldo scored from a spot kick in the dying minutes of the game to win the match 4-1 against city rivals Atletico Madrid. Bale was on target in both the semifinal and finals of the FIFA Club World Cup, whereas Ronaldo failed to open his account in the tournament.
The Ronaldo-Bale duo successfully celebrated the recent success of La Undecima by winning the UEFA Champions League 2016 in May. Now, the two Real Madrid superstars go head-to-head for a place in the finals at the Euro Cup 2016 as Portugal takes on rookie Wales in Lyon. Both players were at their very best in the Euro qualifying rounds and led their teams successfully into the main tournament by scoring in crunch matches. Bale scored seven goals in ten outings, whereas Ronaldo found the back of the net on five occasions in eight matches.
Coming into the main tournament, Ronaldo has so far recorded the maximum number of attempts on goal, whereas Bale has scored more goals. Bale scored in three successive round-robin matches and is the second highest goal scorer in the tournament. Ronaldo has scored two goals so far, both against Hungary in perhaps the most adverse of situations, as Portugal was on the verge of exiting the tournament, having failed to register a single win until then. Against Croatia in the Round of 16, Ronaldo’s kick was blocked by the goalkeeper Danijel Subašić towards Ricardo Quaresma and he had an open goal to seal the match.
Defensively, Ronaldo has not made a single tackle or interception in the five matches so far, whereas Bale has made eight tackles and three interceptions. Bale has successfully scored from two free kicks in the games against England and Slovakia. On the other hand, Ronaldo’s bad run with the free kicks continues. He has not scored one in Portuguese colours in 14 months.
Ronaldo has never been beaten by Bale in their previous encounters. Although this is their first meeting on the international stage, but they had their share of a personal rivalry back in the days of the English Premier League, when Ronaldo was a Manchester United player and Bale wore a Spurs jersey.
Throughout the tournament, Chris Coleman, the Welsh coach, has regularly been seen giving more space to Bale. He has the freedom to run throughout the midfield and push the ball forward in open spaces, adjusting his pace according to the plan and need of the hour. Fernando Santos, on the other hand, has played with Ronaldo and Nani upfront, the former taking control of the left flank and passing balls to the latter. However, in the second half, he has consistently played more centrally and on the right wing, with Renato Sanchez behind him passing the long balls.
Whatever the result of the semifinal may be, one Madrid star will surely be playing the European Cup Final. Those who were disappointed by Messi vs Neymar no-show at Copa America will definitely have their eyes fixed on this epic encounter.