Ahead of a Euro 2016 semifinal against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, Wales manager Chris Coleman has heaped praise upon his star man Gareth Bale for having the team ethos to go along with his individual brilliance. The duel between Bale and his Real Madrid teammate Ronaldo promises to be the highlight of the first semifinal between two sides aiming to claim an unexpected place in the Sunday’s final against either host France or world champion Germany.
The pair’s relationship at the Bernabeu has not always appeared the most supportive since Bale arrived in 2013, usurping Ronaldo as the most expensive player in the world. And in Madrid and with his country this summer, Ronaldo has often been criticized for his selfishness, taking every free-kick despite continued lack of success and displaying frustration with teammates. Bale, meanwhile, has appeared far happier just to be another part of Wales’ first major tournament in 58 years.
“You are either a team player or you are not," Coleman said in a press conference ahead of the semifinal. "Being comfortable in a team environment, being happy to work to a certain type of ethic, being with a bunch of people that enjoy being together, enjoy working hard and enjoy putting themselves out there... you can't pretend at that, you are either like that or you are not.
“Obviously, Bale is exactly like that, just like the rest of the [Wales] lads. We had a whole campaign to get through where they were all exactly the same.”
Bale scored in each of Wales’ three group games, but in the knockout rounds lesser-known players have come to the fore. That was particularly true in a pulsating quarterfinal win over a talented Belgium side. After captain Ashley Williams canceled out an early thunderbolt from Radja Nainggolan, club-less Hal Robson-Kanu struck one of the goals of Euro 2016 before Burnley forward Sam Vokes added a third with his head.
Portugal’s run to the last four, its fourth semifinal in the last five European Championships, has been rather less thrilling. Indeed, Fernando Santos’ team has yet to win a match inside 90 minutes, drawing all three of its group matches before sneaking past Croatia in extra time in the round of 16 and then Poland on penalties in the quarterfinals.
So often the dominant figure, Ronaldo has taken on a less prominent role in the knockout rounds and remains one goal shy of equaling Michel Platini’s all-time goal record in the European Championship. Against Poland he even opted against his usual glory-stealing practice of taking the fifth and final penalty in a shootout in order to take the opening kick. And Santos insists Ronaldo has all the qualities of a leader.
“I think Ronaldo will be focused,” the former Greece coach said. “He's been an amazing example so far in every aspect of his game. When you talk about being a team player, he has been unsurpassable.
“The way he behaves on the training pitch, around the other players – he's on the same level as every single player when it comes to motivation, because they all want to make it to Paris and to win the final – this is something he's done himself.”
While Ronaldo and Bale will very much be prominent on the pitch in Lyon, some prominent members of their supporting cast will be absent. Wales has been hit particularly hard with suspensions ruling out midfielder Aaron Ramsey and defender Ben Davies. Portugal, meanwhile, will miss William Carvalho through suspension while Pepe is an injury doubt with a thigh problem.
Kickoff Time: 3 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: ESPN
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