Barcelona 1 Real Madrid 2 comment: 58 metres in 8 seconds to score the winner - why £86m Gareth Bale is now a true 'Galactico'
Welshman scored the sublime goal in the 87th minute in the Cop del Rey final
Thursday 17 April 2014
Speedy Gonzalez, Usain Bolt and the Prince of Wales. The headlines were flattering on Thursday morning in the Spanish press and they deserved to be.
There will be some who will never accept an £85 million fee for a footballer but when the Welshman produced his sublime 87th-minute winner to sink old foes Barca at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium a certain Florentino Perez, Madrid’s president, will have had a smile on his face much like that of a Cheshire Cat.
These are the games Bale was bought for. This is why the money was spent. With big fees come even bigger expectations and although the stats show the former Tottenham Hotspur man has enjoyed a good first campaign in the Spanish capital, Wednesday night’s goal was the one to really cement him into the Real Madrid patchwork. A match-winner on the big occasions, a true ‘Galactico’.
Los Blancos had been under pressure and on the back foot after Marc Bartra had levelled things up for Barca with just over 20 minutes to go but Carlo Ancelotti had set his side up to defend stubbornly and hit on the break - and that’s exactly what they did. They did it for the opener, which saw Angel Di Maria give Madrid an 11th-minute lead, and they did it with the winner. Fabio Coentrao, only playing due to injuries to Marcelo and Alvaro Arbeloa, picked up a clearance on the left deep in his own territory and set Bale away.
The first part was very much ‘kick and chase’, a knowledge that he had the legs to get beyond a young Barca centre-back only passed fit to play on the morning of the match. Bale sprayed the ball forward and was almost sent sprawling into the Barca dugout by Bartra but he stayed on his feet, looped around his marker and headed straight for goal. The second part was all about patience, skill and an eye for goal, a neat tuck under the legs of Jose Manuel Pinto and a wheel away in celebration.
His speed was clocked at 27km/hour in the Spanish press and his coverage 58 metres in just eight seconds. It was more like the coverage of the 100m final in the Olympic Games rather than a match-winning goal in the King’s Cup but it highlighted Bales strengths - pace, power, technique and an eye for goal. It highlighted his importance to Los Blancos and how he fit perfectly into a side that like to play direct - more direct than Wednesday’s opponents. A clash of styles.
Bale was Madrid’s big-money summer signing and he out-shone his counterpart at the Camp Nou. Brazilian star Neymar didn’t turn up to the party, although he was inches away from sending the game to extra-time when his late effort came back off the woodwork and fell straight into the arms of a relieved Iker Casillas in the Madrid goal. The former Santos man has struggled to replicate his performances with Santos in Spain, albeit it being his debut season, a season in which his off-the-field transfer will be remembered rather than his performances.
The Welsh wing wizard also outshone Lionel Messi, who looked frustrated and seemingly somewhat disinterested in the Barca attack. He caused the Madrid defence, aided by two banks of four without the ball with the workmanlike Di Maria helping out in defence, few problems and looked a shadow of the played that scooped so many Ballon d’Or trophies in succession. The Argentine was the key man pre-match given Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence with a knee injury but it was Bale who took those plaudits post-match with Messi nowhere to be seen.
Read more: 'It was a dream come true,' says Bale
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Ronaldo’s absence may have actually been a blessing for Bale. Before the match, almost half of his goals for the club had come without Ronaldo on the pitch. A hat-trick in the 4-0 victory over Real Valladolid earlier in the season a case in point. The former Spurs man has made no secret of his joy in playing alongside a player he describes as the best on the planet, but he seems to revel when he’s the main man. Madrid took advantage of that last night as their Portuguese talisman celebrated like any of the thousands of Madridistas inside the Mestalla.
The former Manchester United man’s absence may have freed Bale up to be the lead man but it also piled more pressure on his shoulders. In the build-up to the game many had called on the 24-year-old to rise to the occasion given his teammates absence and given the importance of the fixture. Madrid have gone missing in many of the big matches this season, losing both Liga matches to Barca and only taking a point from a possible six against neighbours and current league leaders Atletico Madrid. Bale has gone missing in many of them, too.
It meant an expectation. Just like Ronaldo was tagged as somewhat of a flat-track bully in his early years at Madrid, and indeed for Portugal, and a player who failed to cut it when it really mattered, Bale, although just months into his Blancos career, had suffered a similar fate. The cup final was his first chance to prove those doubters wrong, the first chance for silverware and he succeeded.
The stats so far show a good debut season for Madrid. Given the transfer fee and the usual daunting nature of pulling on the shirt of arguably the biggest, and most demanding, club in world football, 20 goals and 15 assists in all competitions is not bad going at all. Between those stats, however, were some genuine questions over his overall contribution to the team. Bringing a somewhat lackadaisical approach, the Welshman had not exactly been winning Madridistas over completely despite the knowledge that he did not have a full pre-season and has endured a number of niggling injuries this term as a result.
Wednesday’s winning goal should change all that. Bale showed he can rise to the occasion in the big matches and guide his team, almost single-handedly such was the individual nature of the goal, covering 58 metres on his own without support, to victories and trophies. he returned to Cibeles, the fountain in central Madrid where Los Blancos celebrate their successes, to fans chanting his name as much as their beloved Ronaldo’s.
Now he’s set the standard and he, as much as anybody, but will be keen to continue that as Madrid embark on a possible treble this season. Bayern Munich visit the Bernabeu next Wednesday the first leg of the Champions League semi-final tie while Ancelotti’s side are still chasing La Liga, trailing Atletico by three points but with an inferior head-to-head record, which will come into play at the end of the season. Bale enjoyed his first time at Cibeles but he’ll be hoping it won’t be the last this season as he embarks on a new status as a Madrid match-winner.
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