Euro 2016: Cristiano Ronaldo vs Gareth Bale as Portugal Face Wales in Semis 0
Lyon: When Portugal and Wales face off for a spot in the final of the European Championship, two players will be expected to rise far above the rest. Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, club teammates at Real Madrid and the most expensive players in the history of the sport, will bear the hopes of their nations on Wednesday night at Stade de Lyon. None of the previous 48 matches played at Euro 2016 has pitted two players of such unequaled star status and undisputed importance to their teams. The stage, fittingly enough, could hardly be bigger. The winner will earn a spot in the July 10 final at Saint-Denis against either world champion Germany or tournament host France. "Two of the best players on the planet," Wales coach Chris Coleman said. "I don't suppose there will be any love lost on the evening. We know what's at stake, any friendship will have to wait until after the game." Less than six weeks ago, Ronaldo and Bale joined in celebrations after winning a second Champions League trophy in their three seasons together at Real Madrid. Since moving to Spain on a record €100-million (then $132-million) transfer that broke Madrid's own deal for Ronaldo, Bale has always played the role of deferential sidekick to the three-time world player of the year. The match in Lyon now offers Bale the perfect stage to challenge that hierarchy. A standout performance by one could even tip the Ballon d'Or vote in his favor. Bale arrives in better form than Ronaldo. The Wales winger is among the competition's top scorers with three goals (only France's Antoine Griezmann has more with four), including two goals from free kicks. Bale's unheralded team is also riding a huge high after the most important victory in its history: a 3-1 come-from-behind win to oust Belgium in the quarterfinals. Best of all for Coleman, his side roared back against the Belgians without needing a goal from Bale. Captain Ashley Williams started the rally that Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes completed. It means that Wales has taken the label of underdog fan favorite from Iceland after its fairytale run was ended by France on Sunday. That was the latest milestone for an ascendant Wales. Ranked outside the top 100 four years ago, Bale scored seven goals in qualifying to carry Wales into its first major competition since the 1958 World Cup. Once in France, it defied expectations by finishing ahead of neighbor England to win its group. It then topped that by becoming the first debutante to reach the semifinals since Sweden in 1992.
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