If Gareth Bale is ever to emerge from the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo, the Welshman must earn the opportunity to join his rival in showcasing his talents at international level.
Securing qualification for the European Championships in France next summer would just be the start. The preliminary stages of the tournament are usually where the Welsh dragon struggles to produce its fire, but it looks like Chris Coleman will succeed where many before him have failed.
Ronaldo’s experience at major tournaments during his younger years proved to be the making of him and, if his Real Madrid teammate is amongst the blockbuster names in France next summer, it could do the same for him too.
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One of Ronaldo’s biggest heartaches came with Portugal back in 2004, where they were beaten on home soil as Greece won the European Championships for the first time in their history.
It was a tournament where, a year on from signing for Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, his qualities were beginning to be acknowledged. The Scot’s tutelage was consequently prompting the former Sporting Lisbon winger closer towards realising his full potential.
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And then came the World Cup of 2006. Made a scapegoat for yet another England quarter-final exit, the tidal waves of hate that poured in his directions from the sidelines spurred him on. He returned to the Premier League a more mature and complete player than he had done before and helped the Red Devils to a first league title in four years.
In recent competitions at international level he has often been the sole superstar of the national team. Trophies in the colours of his country continue to elude him but the performances of style and substance come with increasing and frightening regularity. It is what Bale is now beginning to produce as well.
If Bale is to join Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on the footballing throne then he must help Coleman’s men qualify for the tournament and consequently make an impact in France next year.
His goals have blasted them to the brink to such an extent their reliance on him is now glaringly obvious. Without him they lack potency but in him they possess a player capable of performing on the biggest stages of them all.
To succeed where Ronaldo has failed would finally convince a baying crowd of Madridijstas of his worth. It may even be enough to take the talismanic tag from his teammate at the end of the season.
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