UEFA Euro 2016 rushes toward its conclusion as we approach the last four of the tournament, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal set to cross swords with Gareth Bale and Wales on Wednesday in Lyon, France.
The two most famous Galacticos from Real Madrid lead their troops into a classic battle at the Stade de Lyon as the semi-finals commence.
Ronaldo is yet to display his best form after a tough season with Los Blancos, but Bale has provided moments of magic as the Welsh fly the flag for the British contingent.
Here is how you can watch the vital semi-final tie:
Date: Wednesday, July 6
Time: 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET
TV:ITV and HD (UK), ESPN (U.S.)
Match odds (via OddsShark.com):
|Portugal Form: WWDDDW||Wales Form: WWWLWL|
Battle of the Galacticos for a Place in Final
When Ronaldo and Bale were teamed together at club level by Madrid in 2013, the path to silverware and glory was clear and present.
Bale was the new kid on the block, emulating Ronaldo’s power game with a touch of grace and finesse from the left.
However, the two most expensive players in the history of the sport will now face off on Wednesday when their respective countries battle for a surprise spot in the final of Euro 2016.
Neither team were fancied to progress to the last four, and a place in the final would be a serious overachievement for both nations.
Portugal have been to the semi-finals on four previous occasions but have only once progressed to the final, when they were beaten by Greece on home soil in 2004.
However, the story of Wales is the romantic tale of the championship, having not qualified for a major tournament since 1958.
Bale has been the inspiration behind the Welsh charge, but their progression hasn’t been the one-man show that was expected.
The former Tottenham Hotspur winger has been the mouthpiece of his country between matches, goading and challenging opponents, but it has been the collective effort on the pitch which sees the Dragons challenge for a momentous berth in the final.
However, Bale has played down the battle between himself and Ronaldo, saying it’s 11 men versus 11 men, and not an individual contest, per Sky Sports News HQ:
Wales are without pivotal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who was cautioned in the quarter-final to trigger a one-match suspension. Full-back Ben Davies joins the Arsenal player in the stands for the same reason, per BBC Sport.
James Collins and Jazz Richards are tipped to deputise for the pair, but the exclusion of Ramsey—who has been one of his country’s best performers in France—is a huge blow for manager Chris Coleman.
Coleman has already dedicated the game to former Wales manager Gary Speed, who died in 2011 after leading the development and rebuilding of Welsh football.
Ian Herbert of the Independent highlighted the tribute:
Portugal will be missing influential defensive talent William Carvalho, who is suspended for the clash, and first-choice centre-back Pepe was forced to train alone on Tuesday due to a thigh injury, per BBC Sport.
Many bookmakers see the Portuguese comfortably taking the result, as Oddschecker.com quote slim odds of 3-1 for Ronaldo and his team to win by two goals or more. However, if Wales continue their goal spree, generous odds of 31-4 can be claimed for the Welsh equivalent.
If punters wish to focus on the two superstars on show in Lyon, odds of 35-1 can be claimed for Ronaldo to score a hat-trick in normal time, with Bale quoted at a gigantic 80-1, according to Oddschecker.com.
Neutrals will be tuning in to see the Los Merengues duo strut their stuff in the semi-final, but the team spirit of the Welsh could be the story of the match as they honour Speed’s memory.
Wales are a collection of journeymen stitched together with the world-class talents of Bale and the application of a dogged defence and visceral midfield.
The Welsh never dared to imagine such dreams of tournament success in the past, but Portugal are a beatable opponent for the Dragons.
However, they must first stop a motivated Ronaldo who will want to prove he is still Real’s alpha-male talent, putting Bale in his place in the global pecking order.