Wales and Portugal have had quite different journeys at the European Championships in France. Aside from a narrow loss against England in their second game, Wales have won all of their games at the competition and have gone from being solid to spectacular as the competition has progressed. Portugal have shown flashes of inspiration and their attacking potential, but you still feel they haven’t flourished as yet. But then Wales more than coped with all of the flair Belgium could muster.
A first ever semi-final for Wales should be the main story here. But the press love a personal confrontation, a gladiatorial clash of titans. Or, in this case, Galacticos. At Real Madrid, Bale and Ronaldo are on the same side, though talk of them not getting on too well seems to rear up from time to time. And that helps fuel the story of confrontation, but as with the press in the UK, I’m sure a lot of this is maybe a little bit exaggerated to sell Spanish tabloids. To get to where Bale and Ronaldo are, you need to focus on your own performance and your contribution to the team.
Yes, I’m going to talk about teamwork again. The press is already putting a lot of focus on Bale and Ronaldo right up until kick off, and you can see why. Everyone knows their names. They’re the star players. So their respective teams’ success will depend on their performances tomorrow night. Or will it?
Watching Portugal, you sense that Ronaldo is the self-elected focal point for the team. He tries to get involved wherever he can, that’s for sure. A laudable commitment, but it means that he wants to be everywhere, winning every ball and hitting every shot, and when a potential pass to him doesn’t materialise, he doesn’t always react like a real star should (but as sadly many do).
Watching Bale is very different. He very obviously has a higher level of skill than his teammates (as well as most on the planet). His composure on the ball, turn of pace and eye for a pass mark him out. But he operates as a team member first and foremost. The fact that he has superb individual talent is a bonus. I haven’t yet seen Bale grab a game by the scruff of the neck and win it by himself, but that’s his role. He has scored and assisted more than the others, but more as a result of adding a little finesse to a well-drilled unit, than waltzing past a whole opposition team single-handed.
And this Galactico sideshow will suit Chris Coleman just fine. The press can concentrate on a one-on-one Real Madrid dust up and Wales can concentrate on playing as they have up till now. As a unit. As Wales. Not as Bale & Co.
Wales didn’t go into the game against Belgium as favourites and despite their performance last Friday, they’re still the bookies’ favourites to be flying home to Rhoose on Thursday morning. Having seen both teams play and, for all the potential danger Portugal pose, they are still somewhat reliant on Ronaldo, who is desperate to be conductor, general and national hero.
Bale gets the headlines, gets quoted in papers and is on the majority of Welsh shirts, but Wales’ amazing story in France has been built on the solid foundations of a team with palpable passion, sticking to a plan and working hard for each other.
All people are talking about is football here in Cardiff now, regardless of prior interest levels, and I’ve heard numerous tales of kids wanting to perfect a ‘Robson-Kanu turn’ in the garden or want to get hair like Bale (not sure about that one). It’s exciting and Football has always had the participation numbers in Wales, but hasn’t really had a winning team to match. I just hope the FAW are able to cope with the explosion of interest in the sport created by Wales’ endeavours.
Of course, if they don’t make it past the semi-final tomorrow, they’ll still get a heroes’ welcome and rightly be called winners anyway, but I have a feeling that the odyssey of this special Welsh team is not over just yet.