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As extra time loomed in the Copa Del Rey final, came the Gareth Bale moment. The Welshman picked up the ball inside the Real Madrid half and then ran at the Barcelona defence. Marc Bartra chased him and shoved him, but Bale went around him. The Barcelona centre-half lunged at Bale, but the winger nutmegged him. Then Bale entered into the area and put the ball past keeper Jose Pinto into the far corner.
“A run of a lifetime”, shouted Spanish paper Marca and as Cristiano Ronaldo clapped from his smart seat in the directors’ box, the Real Madrid fans chanted, “Viva Bale”. In just one 58-m sprint, the 25-year-old became a superhero, unravelling Barcelona’s season further.
The goal helped Bale acquire his first piece of silverware in top-flight football, but that was incidental. The burden was finally off, as he justified his £86-million price tag. Estadio Santiago Bernabeu now has a new match-winner.
“The goal was incredible. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it. It looked like the ball was going out and he was under pressure. He ran off the pitch to keep it in. It was just amazing,” Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti told Sky Sports after the match.
Bale accepted the adulation with humility. “I just had my eyes on the ball. I knew I had to get around him (Bartra). Thankfully, the goal came at the end of it,” he said.
Ronaldo, the top scorer in La Liga and the Champions League this season, had to sit out of the final with a thigh muscle injury in his left leg. Without him, Real Madrid needed someone to provide the X-factor on the field. Bale rose to the occasion and, in the process, got out of Ronaldo’s shadow.
At the other end, Barcelona fans were moaning about a £49-million flop; £72.9 million to be precise if you add the reported hidden costs. But once again, Neymar failed to stand up and deliver when Lionel Messi was subdued. Yet again, Bale scored over the Brazilian in the “battle of the millionaires”.
Here are the comparative statistics courtesy ESPNFC.com and WhoScored.com: Bale has scored 14 goals in La Liga this season in 25 appearances. Neymar has scored nine in equal number of matches. Bale has scored 20 goals in all competitions, while Neymar has scored 15. Bale has made 15 assists in all competitions, Neymar’s tally stops at 11. Bale also leads the shots