The world’s two most expensive footballers, who play alongside each other at Real Madrid, will go head-to-head when Gareth Bale’s Wales meet Cristriano Ronaldo’s Portugal in their Euro 2016 semifinal in Lyon on Wednesday (6 July).
In playing terms, both are the leaders of their teams but they take very different approaches to their role.
While Bale is widely acclaimed as an inspiration for his national team, Ronaldo’s influence on Portugal is the subject of debate.
Ronaldo’s teammates routinely leap to his defence and emphasise that he is always working for them.
Despite this, Portugal coach Fernando Santos insisted on Tuesday (5 July) that the match was about far more than two players
“All the players of both teams are very committed in the fight to win this semi-final, it’s normal to want to reach the semis and then the final, both teams have this aim of course, and all the players included in the two teams will have the same goal, it’s not just Cristiano (Ronaldo) and (Gareth) Bale, it’s all the players in the team, it’s not just about them, they all have the same aim, also Nani, they all want it, it’s perfectly normal,” Santos told reporters at a news conference.
It will be virgin territory for Wales when they face Portugal in the Euro 2016 semifinals yet their opponents could be forgiven a sense of deja vu as they step on to the pitch in Lyon, France.
This will be Portugal’s fourth semifinal in the last five editions of the competition stretching back to 2000, but for all their success in reaching the latter stages of the tournament, there has been little glory along the way.
Only once have they overcome the last-four hurdle and then they were beaten in the final by Greece as hosts at Euro 2004.
If you include their defeat in the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup and a loss at the Euros in 1984, they are becoming all too familiar with the pitfalls of this stage of major tournaments.
Portugal’s conquerors in their recent last-four clashes have included football powerhouses France, at Euro 2000 and the World Cup in 2006, and Spain at Euro 2012.
Should they lose to Wales, playing their first major tournament in 58 years and their first ever semi-final, it would be a devastating blow.
Yet Wales are arguably the form team coming into the match and Santos believes it will be a tough encounter against Chris Coleman’s team.
Wales have revelled in their underdog status to win their group, which also included England, Russia and Slovakia, ease out British rivals Northern Ireland in the last 16 and sweep past heavy favourites Belgium in the quarters.
“The technical quality, the passing, the control, the movement, all these things that I learned all these years ago and that you don’t forget, I think Wales have all these technical qualities, the passing, the control, the movement, all this,” Santos, said.
“They play differently, we have been analysing it obviously to encounter it with the right strategy to get the result we want, and that is for Portugal to advance, that is what we want.”
Portugal defender, Jose Fonte added: “It’s not just the typical English style, the players also have great technical qualities, they are at a very high level, and for this I am expecting a tough game, a battle, and we have been preparing for this, you have to ask for the plan, I won’t tell you, we’ve been preparing all week to win the match with all our weaponry, that’s what we want.
“I think they never give up; mentality, the togetherness they are showing and the system that they’re playing suits them well. They know the system well, they have their strengths and it’s a team with a lot of qualities. They are where they are because they deserve so we expect a really tough game tomorrow.”
Portugal are yet to win a match at the tournament inside 90 minutes, having drawn all three group games, beaten Croatia in extra time and squeezed past Poland on penalties.
Things are yet to click for Portugal, and by extension for captain Cristiano Ronaldo, who has at times looked exasperated by his team mates’ attacking shortcomings.
Yet Portugal are unbeaten in 12 competitive internationals since Fernando Santos took over as coach at the start of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
With Ronaldo’s Real Madrid team-mate Pepe marshalling an increasingly assured defence, they will be tough to break down.
Ronaldo has scored twice but the Real Madrid forward has been criticised for not being in top form or being a team player but Santos was quick to defend his captain.
“Ronaldo has been an amazing player in all respects, and in this important aspect you talk about of being a team player, the way he behaves on the training ground with the team, but it is not just the way he tries to behave with the team, with the other players, to motivate them with his presence, that is his great mission,” Santos said
“Because Cristiano is at the same level of all the others, he is behind them in terms of motivation, of wanting the team to make it to Paris and fight for more, and I don’t think he needs to work more at this, he has done it himself.”
In the other semifinal, France takes on Germany Thursday (7 July).