Real Madrid 4 Atletico Madrid 1: Home-grown superstar Gareth Bale keeps on running and finds his appropriate reward

Bale netted in extra-time to give Real the lead and put them on course to win 'La Decima'

Estadio da Luz

For those of us old enough to remember the great forward line that led Real Madrid to their fifth consecutive European Cup in Glasgow in 1960 – Canario, Del Sol, Di Stefano, Puskas, Gento – the flamboyance of the club’s current attack has an added allure. Especially with a Briton being the man who sent them surging forward again and again and, ultimately, brought them an unrivalled 10th title.

Yes, Gareth Bale is now more British than Andy Murray. The Welshman was our invitation to European football’s top table and he duly delivered the most delicious of treats with his extra-time intervention. Marcello’s goal and Ronaldo’s penalty were merely the sealing of the deal.

Bale’s first season in Spain has vindicated those who saw his devastating displays for Tottenham against Internazionale in 2010-11 as the start of something very, very big. And his decisive goal last night was as big as it comes in the club game.

Bale is admired by Zinedine Zidane, once the brightest of all galacticos. Cristiano Ronaldo was recently and rightly voted the world’s best player, but he had neither the verve nor composure required to overcome Atletico’s much vaunted defence. His only telling contribution would be to earn and convert a penalty when the game was already won.

Bale, on the other hand, had already passed up a handful of chances before he found the net.

 

At Atletico, Diego Simeone has nurtured teamwork of a standard that might even have frustrated opponents of the rare quality of Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas if such communal techniques had existed in 1960. It was an enormous test for Bale and one with which he often struggled.

When Real paid ¤100 million for the 24-year-old last summer – actually they claimed it was  ¤91m or just under £80m, perhaps in order to maintain Ronaldo’s status as the most expensive player in the world – they had to let Mesut Özil go to Arsenal. Few question that judgement any more.

Not after the Copa del Rey final last month. Not after that goal against Barcelona in Valencia, when from the halfway line Bale sprinted irresistibly, surviving Marc Bartra’s crude barge, curving his run so he almost had to leave the stadium (“Of course I’m not paying to get back in – don’t you know who I am?”), veering inside and nutmegging Jose Pinto at the goalkeeper’s near post.

With such deeds Bale has earned the respect of Ronaldo. His lack of bombast – that was a joke; he’d never demand that you know who he was – has helped in this regard. Bale has fitted into Spain’s version of FC Hollywood with becoming modesty, not to mention 20 goals in 38 La Liga and Champions’ League appearances before last night.

Carlo Ancelotti set about breaking down the most resilient team structure in Europe with Bale wide on the right, Ronaldo on the left and Karim Benzema through the middle. If only the Frenchman had been more precise with an early flick when served by the rampaging Daniel Carvajal, Bale would have been clear and Atletico, perhaps, unlocked.

However, no one who has encountered Atletico this season, least of all Chelsea, their semi-final victims, would expect Real to have things easy.

Bale certainly laboured under no illusion that his job was purely creative. Diligently he tracked back with Filipe Luis, Atletico’s adventurous left-back; this was never going to be a night for end-of-season legs.

With Bale so occupied by Filipe Luis, and Ronaldo subdued in the face of Juanfran, it was left to Angel di Maria to lift the hopes of Real’s support. He drifted to the left, seeking to double the challenge to Juanfran and his colleagues, and one promising run was crudely halted by Raul Garcia at the expense of a yellow card.

Bale then skipped through the defence, causing Tiago to pull out of a tackle for fear of a penalty, before prodding wide. It was an expensive failure, for a couple of minutes later Iker Casillas made an infinitely worse error and Real were behind.

Bale was seldom at his sharpest until his decisive moment. In truth he didn’t look fully fit and dragged two very presentable chances wide of the target before Sergio Ramos made sure the pain had to drag on a while longer.

And yet it was Bale who had the energy to arrive at the far post at the exact right moment to head Real in front. It was emblematic of his indefatigable energy, and as Real surged away thereafter, those tired legs must have felt like skipping across the turf.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy