Portugal-Wales, Cristiano-Bale

"This is not Bale against Cristiano, this is Wales against Portugal," Bale said the other day, and he was right. The same has been said, or thought, by many other people in both those countries and elsewhere. But how can we avoid this perspective of oversimplification? Two formidable players, with the physique of athletes who have landed in the world football, with that unattainable stride, those long distance strikes, one right-footed, the other left, the danger they pose on the pitch... And, they’re both at Real Madrid, and from this past year have been subjected to comparisons. I hear many comments after each game, about one or the other.

Bale and Ronaldo celebrating together for Real Madrid.

Bale as a successor to Cristiano and the future figurehead of Madrid was a big gamble for the president, Florentino. His price along with his performances over the first two seasons raised some doubts. Forced to play in a new position for him, he was unable to get fully involved in the meat of the game. What saved him were his goals; incredible goals and interspersed at timely moments, not to mention the phenomenal impact of his galloping runs. But in this last season he has played a greater role, especially within Zidane’s more balanced side. He has shone in the air. Now, more than all that, he has dragged Wales to a place they’ve never been before.

Only one of Bale or Cristiano will be celebrating tonight.

So Bale can be presented as the potential heir to Cristiano, although no one expects him to reach more than 50 goals a year as he did. The question for some is just when he will take over the mantle. When will Cristiano move to the role of King Emeritus and hand over the reins? He is 31 years old and beginning to show the signs of gentle decline. Bale is about to turn 27, reaching his prime. They both now face the big game. Inevitably, those who are not Portuguese or Welsh, and who live with a focus on Madrid, look at this game from the oversimplified perspective.