“When two Elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.” That is a popular saying and one would only hope that the grass at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais Stadium in Lyon would not suffer too much when Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale clash with their respective countries in one of the semifinal clashes at the Euro 2016.
Both Bale and Ronaldo are two of the world’s best players at the moment and while their respective national teams may not be the best in the world at the minute, this clash is highly-anticipated nonetheless, given the presence of the Real Madrid superstars.
But to say the game will be just about the two players will be to show disrespect to the other players that have helped their respective teams get this far in the competition.
For Wales especially, who are only appearing at their first major tournament in 58 years and no one, not even the Welsh would have believed their good fortune in this tournament so far. But it also goes beyond good fortune for the Red Dragons, as their performances in this tournament have shown they thoroughly deserve a place in the semifinals.
For Portugal, it was an underwhelming start to the competition and if not for this edition which was expanded, they wouldn’t have made it past the group stage as they finished third to Hungary and surprise packages Iceland.
Their talisman, Ronaldo, for one started the tournament poorly as well by his standards, and failed to score in their first two group games as Portugal struggled for draws against Iceland and Austria.
There have been talks of him not being 100% fit and while it sort of looked true in those games, the final group game against Hungary however brought out the best in this Portugal side, and it coincided in Ronaldo finally coming to the party with two goals as they came from behind thrice to draw 3-3 in a dramatic game that saw them progress as one of the best placed third teams in the groups.
It is however instructive to note that he struggled against Iceland and Austria and the question is, why?
As expected, both Iceland and Austria – especially the former – played with more men behind the ball and never gave too many spaces behind them which proved difficult for Ronaldo and his Portugal colleagues to penetrate.
As a result, he couldn’t hide his frustrations following the game against Iceland when he said: “It was a little bit frustrating, we tried hard to win the game, and Iceland didn’t try anything.
“They scored a goal, they created two chances in the ninety minutes and otherwise they got every player behind the ball, they put the bus in the net so it’s difficult when one team don’t try but Portugal try and play football and try to win the game.”
It is instructive to pay attention to the latter part of the quote. He was frustrated that ‘Portugal try and play football and try to win the game’ but Iceland didn’t. It is no surprise then that against the team that tried to play and win, Hungary, they scored three goals – albeit coming from behind on the three occasions.
Since then, they have face Croatia and Poland and while Ronaldo didn’t score in regulation time in either of the games, his contributions were more significant as opposed to their first two group opponents. They played against Croatia and Poland – teams that knew they needed to be solid at the back, but also knew they could match Portugal attack-for-attack – so they at least tried to win.
And coming back to the game against Wales, while the Welsh would also fancy their chances of going toe-to-toe with the Portuguese, following the impressive comeback win over Belgium, they must also understand they must keep things tidy at the back.
That means paying attention to the entire Portugal attack, and not just on Ronaldo. Nani and Ricardo Quaresma may not be on the same wavelength with the Real Madrid forward, but they have proven in this competition that they can be match-winners for their country too whenever Ronaldo fails to hit his heights.