King Ronaldo or King Bale?
Ronaldo needs no motivation in showdown with Bale
PORTUGAL v WALES
(Thursday, 2.50am, Singtel TV Ch 142 & StarHub TV Ch 220 - Eleven EURO)
The fire at the Santiago Bernabeu was lit the day he became a Galactico three years ago.
The fuel will be poured into the flames when the two football superstars clash at the Stade de Lyon on Thursday morning (Singapore time).
Gareth Bale versus Cristiano Ronaldo, the scripted clash that has the football world rubbing its hands with anticipation.
If they already can't see eye-to-eye at Real Madrid, just imagine the sparks that will fly when the two of them, on opposing sides, attempt to guide their respective countries to the Euro 2016 final.
The magnitude of the stage is set to magnify every scowl, every glare.
The stakes are enormous.
Bale carries Wales' impossible dream on his shoulders, charged with the task of taking them to the final on their first try.
Ronaldo longs to carve his name in Portuguese folklore by becoming the first man to lead the country to a first title in a major tournament.
Their fortunes at Euro 2016 couldn't have been more contrasting.
At Real, Ronaldo holds the sceptre.
Bale lives in his shadows, his influence curtailed by an unspoken rule.
In the land of Galacticos, there can be only one king.
But the tables have been turned somewhat.
Bale won't be going into this clash with an inferiority complex.
At Euro 2016, the 26-year-old forward flourished at the get-go and has emerged as one of the darlings of the tournament.
He is the poster boy of Wales' fairy-tale run, the nice guy his compatriots love and appreciate having around.
His performances make him one of the best players in the competition.
His three goals place him just one shy of the tournament leading scorer, France's Antoine Griezmann.
When the Dragons cried out for inspiration, Bale was often there to answer the call.
The 2-1 loss to England in the group phase remains the only defeat Wales have suffered in five games.
As Bale took a pipe dream to the brink of reality, Ronaldo was showing signs of wilting under the pressure.
He lives for the limelight, but now appears to be struggling to cope.
He doesn't seem to be enjoying his football.
At 31, he still carries the look of a man with something to prove.
His brilliance has been fleeting.
His best performance came in the 3-3 draw against Hungary in Portugal's final group match.
On that day, he scored twice and registered an assist.
The rest of his displays in this campaign is not worth mentioning.
Portugal's sputtering campaign has drawn much flak.
The team are barely scraping by and Ronaldo has borne the brunt of the criticism.
His side are in the semi-finals without winning a match in normal time.
Ronaldo's frequent outbursts of frustration on the pitch are coming under more scrutiny than ever before.
At times, the atmosphere in the Portuguese camp has looked awkward.
His vulnerability is obvious. The football fraternity can sense a changing of the guard.
The battle lines have been drawn. Bale versus Ronaldo.
The intrigue hangs in the air, like a thick fog over Lyon.
When it clears, only one will be left standing.
Why Bale trumps Ronaldo
The photos say it all.
Cristiano Ronaldo furrows his eyebrows, rolls his eyeballs or throws tantrums whenever something on the pitch goes wrong.
Gareth Bale, on the other hand, quietly encourages and cajoles his teammates when the chips are down.
And it is quite easy to find a photo of his toothy grin, be it at training or at games, save for the 2-1 loss to England.
It is not hard to see which Galactico has been a more galvanising force and who is more able to shoulder the burden of being their team's talisman at the European Championship.
Bale, 26, is a regular fixture at pre-match press conferences, while Ronaldo, 31, has yet to appear at one.
"With our team spirit, it's like being with your mates on holiday," said Bale last week, clearly more at ease with the joviality in the Wales camp than the pressure cooker Real Madrid dressing room.
"Together stronger" has been the motto of Wales' historic campaign, a unity captured perfectly in their first goal - where Bale smashed a free-kick into the Slovakia net just 10 minutes into their first match at a major tournament for 58 years.
Bale wheeled away in celebration and headed straight into a pack of adoring teammates and coaching staff by the Wales bench.
"Balo is just a nice guy, a nice human being, a family guy. He's livelier on the pitch than off it because he doesn't say a lot. He's very much one of the lads. He's quiet, unassuming - that's just his personality," said Wales boss Chris Coleman.
"He has matured a bit more as he has got older, but he has always been the same person really - very quiet and it doesn't float his boat despite all the attention he gets."
Despite the quiet nature, Coleman insists that Bale is a leader in his own right by setting standards for his teammates to match.
"He could be a little bit more demanding because of his game. But that's why he has got so much respect of the players because he's not like that.
"They automatically want to gravitate that way to where he is. And that's how it should be, you know. It's not bringing him down to where we are, and myself included, because he is a special talent."
With both Bale and Ronaldo having contributed to Real Madrid's 11th European Cup win in May, whoever emerges victorious from this personal duel will be favourite to win the Ballon d'Or for 2016.
"Ronaldo is a cannibal. He wants it all. Even in a situation where it seems so difficult to focus on the personal objective like this, he doesn't lose sight of achieving it," said Madrid sports daily Marca on Sunday.
"He is not just playing for the first (tournament win for Portugal), but also his fourth (Ballon d'Or)."
In contrast, Coleman insists a Zurich gala in January will be the furthest thing from Bale's mind in Lyon.
"I don't think that is in Gareth's head. Of course, he's a human being. Thoughts will run through his mind, but he'll be thinking about how we perform in the next game and nothing beyond that."
Bale perhaps summed it up best when he said the match is not about him and Ronaldo or the Ballon d'Or, but about their teams.
"We get on very well at Madrid, and enjoy playing together. It's not for me to decide, or important (who is the better player) as long as the team win." - Wire Services.
Pepe misses training, Bale trains alone
Portugal centre back Pepe missed their team training yesterday for the Euro 2016 semi-final against Wales because of muscle pain.
Pulling the Real Madrid player out of training was just a precautionary measure ahead of Thursday morning's (Singapore time) match in Lyon, the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) announced.
The 33-year-old was the only player missing from the session for Fernando Santos' men.
Midfielder Andre Gomes and left back Raphael Guerreiro returned from knocks over the weekend.
Meanwhile, Gareth Bale trained apart from his teammates yesterday but a Football Association of Wales spokesman said that Bale was not injured. - AFP.