LYON • The two most expensive players in football go head to head tomorrow, when Cristiano Ronaldo leads Portugal against club team-mate Gareth Bale and Wales in the Euro 2016 first semi-final, which could lead one to unprecedented glory.
Bale is junior partner when the two line up for Real Madrid, despite winning two Champions Leagues in three years since arriving in Spain for a world-record fee to team up with Ronaldo.
However, his performances and three goals in France in leading Wales to their first semi-final in a major tournament, allied to his starring role at the end of Real's season, suggest Bale at 26 is in line to take over from Ronaldo, 31.
The key to Bale's and Wales' success has been built upon a remarkable unity which their star man fosters.
"With our team spirit, it's like being with your mates on a holiday," said Bale last week, clearly more at ease with the joviality in the Wales camp than the pressure cooker Real dressing room.
EXTRAORDINARY OR ORDINARY?
Balo is just a nice guy, a nice human being, a family guy... He's very much one of the lads. He's quiet, unassuming.
CHRIS COLEMAN, Wales manager, on Gareth Bale's off-the-pitch personality.
But, given his growing stature in the game, the expectations of a nation rest on his shoulders.
"Balo is just a nice guy, a nice human being, a family guy. He's livelier on the pitch than off it because he doesn't say a lot. He's very much one of the lads. He's quiet, unassuming," said Wales manager Chris Coleman.
"He has matured a bit more as he has got older, but he has always been the same person really - very quiet and it doesn't float his boat all the attention he gets."
Despite the quiet nature, Coleman insists that Bale is a leader in his own right by setting standards for his team-mates to match.
"He could be a little bit more demanding because of his game. But that's why he has got so much respect of the players because he's not like that," said the manager.
"They automatically want to gravitate that way to where he is. And that's how it should be. It's not bringing him down to where we are, and myself included, because he is a special talent."
Ronaldo's road to a third Euros semi-final has been more testing.
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He was frustrated by Iceland, missed a penalty against Austria, scored a double against Hungary and was kept quiet by both Croatia and Poland.
But the superstar will still never have a better chance to cap a glorious career with a maiden international triumph, as Portugal have progressed to the last four without winning a match in 90 minutes.
"I've always said, and I don't hide it, that I would love to win a title with the national team," he said after squeezing past the Poles on penalties in the quarter-finals.
However, he will also have his eyes on the individual prize when facing Bale in Lyon.
With both having contributed to Real's 11th European Cup win in May - and hot on the heels of Lionel Messi's retirement from international football - whoever emerges victorious from Ronaldo and Bale's personal duel will be favourite to win the Ballon d'Or as the world's best player for 2016.
"Ronaldo is a cannibal. He wants it all. Even in a situation where it seems so difficult to focus on the personal objective like this, he doesn't lose sight of achieving it," said Madrid sports daily Marca.
"He is not just playing for the first (tournament win for Portugal), but also his fourth (Ballon d'Or)."
By contrast, Coleman insists a Zurich gala in January will be the furthest thing from Bale's mind in Lyon.
"I don't think that is in Gareth's head. Of course thoughts will run through his mind, but he'll be thinking about how we perform in the next game and nothing beyond that."