Gareth Bale vs Cristiano Ronaldo: How did the two Real Madrid stars perform for their countries this week? – Andy Brassell

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We were still in the first ten minutes of Friday’s game when it started. “You’re just a cheap Gareth Bale,” started the song from the Windsor Park stands, followed by the world-famous refrain of “Messi! Messi!”

Quite apart from piling the hopes of his nation squarely on his shoulders, international week is nothing like a week off

Yet it must, quite frankly, be water off a duck’s back by now. He was booed on his last visit to Belfast too – a friendly, when he was still a Manchester United player, back in November 2005 – and the heckling has only escalated at every stop of his world tour since.

When Portugal travelled to Bosnia-Herzegovina for a European Championship play-off in November 2011, Ronaldo was greeted by locals brandishing Barcelona flags at Sarajevo airport.

In a behind-closed-doors training session in Zenica later the same day, some local kids scaled the stadium fences to intrude and chant ‘Messi!’ at him. Ronaldo nonchalantly give the urchins the middle finger, an image that made the covers of Portugal’s sports newspapers on the following day.

It is hard to believe that he gave much more than a few seconds’ thought to the prospect of accompanying the new most-expensive player in the world – if you ignore exchange rate, inflation and all those other boring, inconvenient aspects of reality – on his prospective Real Madrid debut at Villarreal on Saturday night.

Ronaldo was at his pugnacious best in Belfast, ultimately putting Northern Ireland to the sword with a quickfire hat-trick, but not before offering a riposte to the cries from the stands. Even when trudging his way through a quiet first hour – perhaps inhibited by a thigh injury that required intensive treatment to even get him on the field – he was defiant, defeating a bemused Steven Davis with one outrageous roulette. His default is confrontation.

Given the derision – and often spite – that Ronaldo’s puffed-chest demeanour provokes, one wonders why on earth Bale would want to emulate it so much. If his new teammate pays extraordinarily close attention to his image, Bale has – for some time now – begun to do the same.

Even as already-eliminated Wales chased a hopeless cause against a superior Serbia in Cardiff, Bale was making all the right moves.

Stu Forster

Just after the 20-minute mark, the small but noisy band of fans in the Canton stand sang Bale’s name to the tune of ‘Give It Up’ by KC and the Sunshine Band while began to warm up enthusiastically in front of them, and he powered through a routine of passes, pirouettes and lightning-fast shuttle runs as if the whole world was watching at half-time.

What Bale and Ronaldo do have in common is that they are both destined to be their country’s talisman for the length of their respective professional careers.

Bale seems ready for the responsibility. His 58th minute entrance, replacing Leicester’s Andy King, elicited by far the biggest cheer of a largely gloomy night for the home fans.

He was quickly into the action as Vladimir Stojkovic punched one shot from distance away, with Bale’s follow-up went just wide of the post. He even reprised Ronaldo’s little double-foot-stamp as frustration as the chances went astray.

When Bale stayed down briefly after fouling Anderlecht’s Luka Milivojevic, the journalists sent from Madrid to track their new star winced a collective “huuuy!”

There seemed to be no damage as he strode purposefully out after the game, not stopping to talk.

Bale is ready for business, and it already seems like he and Ronaldo are ready to be an explosive combination.

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