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Bale d'Or! Wales wonder can rival Ronaldo as Madrid's main Golden Ball contender

9:30 AM GMT 25/06/2016
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The Welsh winger is the top scorer at Euro 2016 with three goals and having also won the Champions League, he is in with a chance of claiming the prestigious individual award

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Gareth Bale has had a memorable month. At the end of May, the 26-year-old won the Champions League for the second time in three years in what was his best season yet at Real Madrid and now he has led Wales into the last 16 of Euro 2016 with three goals in as many games. It is the sort of form that should see him contend for the Ballon d'Or.

Bale began the season in a central role under Rafa Benitez but returned to the wing under Zinedine Zidane and was Madrid's standout performer in both legs of the Champions League semi-final against Manchester City, forcing the own goal from Fernando that sealed passage to the showpiece in Milan. At San Siro, he ended up a hero by netting a penalty in the shootout even though he had been playing virtually on one leg in extra time.

"You want to win Champions Leagues," Bale said after the defeat of Atletico Madrid in which he also bagged the assist for Sergio Ramos' opener. "That's why I came to the biggest club in the world… to do it twice in three years is an amazing feat and we just have to try and build on this now."

Next year's final is in his native Cardiff and winning there would mean more than anything, but Wales was already in his thoughts straight after lifiting the famous trophy on May 28.

"My confidence is high, especially after winning, so I am looking forward to going to the Euros," he said. And in France he hasn't looked back, scoring in each game to lead his nation into the last 16 as group winners, with a second-round clash against Northern Ireland in store in Paris on Saturday.

Wales beat Slovakia and Russia in their group, but lost 2-1 to England. However, it is a sign of Bale's quality that he is now considered superior to any of the players in Roy Hodgson's squad and the Welsh winger admitted it was sweet to beat the Three Lions to top spot.

"It's a moral victory for us, some bragging rights," he said. "It's always nice to finish above the English."

Now, with almost all of the tournament favourites (France, Spain, Italy, Germany and England) in the opposite half of the draw, Wales will be considered dark horses to go all the way to the final in Paris on July 10. Certainly, they will be expected to overcome Northern Ireland and make it into the last eight.

"We know about them, but they will know us also," Bale said. "It will be a very British type of game and if we can match our performance against Russia we will have a very good chance. They have similar spirit, work very hard, perhaps they're a bit more defensive than us. They will be difficult to break down but we will give everything we have."

Chris Coleman's side will look to their main man once again and if Bale can lead Wales into the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 and beyond, there is no reason why he cannot compete for the Ballon d'Or early in 2017.

Portugal are still in the mix at Euro 2016 after scraping through their group with three draws, but it is fair to say Bale has looked superior to club colleague Cristiano Ronaldo so far. In fact, the two teams could go on to meet in the semi-finals - although the Portuguese face a tough test in the last 16 against Croatia.

As things stand, and with six months of football still to play, Barcelona pair Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez look certain to claim places on the three-man shortlist for the Golden Ball. That leaves one spot up for grabs and if Bale can continue his fantastic form at this tournament and takes Wales to the latter stages, he could well rival Ronaldo as Madrid's main contender in Zurich next January.

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