Real led early on thanks to Angel di Maria’s smart finish but were pegged back midway through the second half thanks to Marc Bartra’s pinpoint header. That set up a fraught finish in a Clasico that had taken time to spark into life.
Then, with extra time looming, Bale decided matters—the Welshman delighting the sidelined Cristiano Ronaldo and half the supporters inside the Mestalla in Valencia, as he beat Bartra and dribbled the ball 50 yards into the box before slipping a deft finish between Jose Pinto’s legs.
It was a breathtaking display of athleticism and calm under pressure, as the world-record signing justified his large transfer fee by delivering Carlo Ancelotti his first piece of silverware as Real boss.
Barcelona desperately searched for an equaliser that would force extra time, but after Neymar’s close-range effort clattered the post, they were destined to end up disappointed.
After lifting the trophy, Real captain Iker Casillas told reporters (via Reuters):
I think the team played a fabulous match tonight in a very entertaining game.
We are happy for all the fans who came here to Valencia tonight.
Now we have to enjoy this moment and think about the league and the Champions League.
With injuries ensuring Ronaldo, Marcelo, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol (among many others) were all unavailable, both managers shuffled their options, with Gerardo Martino forced to pair Javier Mascherano and the young Bartra in central defence.
Ancelotti, meanwhile, opted to play Isco in midfield, with Di Maria supporting Bale and Karim Benzema in attack. It was the Argentine who broke the deadlock in the 11th minute, following a somewhat subdued start to the contest.
There was a hint of offside—and Pinto could arguably have done better with his save—but it was a clinical finish. Di Maria spotted some space on the right, and his probing run was found by Benzema. Di Maria fended off the recovering Jordi Alba before driving his shot across Pinto and inside the far post.
Real looked the more settled side and continued to create the better chances, with Benzema, Bale and Luka Modric all forcing Pinto into frequent action. Barcelona, however, continued to frustrate, with Lionel Messi’s subdued display and wayward shooting seeming to sum up many of their struggles.
In the second half, however, Martino’s side made some adjustments and found a greater attacking threat, particularly when Pedro arrived in place of Cesc Fabregas.
Just past the hour mark, they would get the equaliser, but perhaps not by the manner expected. Bartra headed in at the far post after peeling around the back to meet Xavi’s corner.
That set the stage for an enthralling final 20 minutes, with both sides confident they had the formula to get the decisive third goal.
Ultimately, though, the game was decided by the two most expensive players on the pitch. The most expensive player, officially at least, got the winner—a strike of sublime quality.
Bartra appeared to have Bale covered when the ball made its way to the winger out on the left, but Bale kicked the ball beyond his defender and then ran well off the pitch in order to get past him, returning in time to collect the ball and make a beeline for the box.
Bartra, attempting to recover, knew he could not afford to touch his rival inside the box, and Bale had just enough time to balance himself and find the gap between Pinto’s legs.
Ronaldo, watching from the stands in a suit and baseball cap, led the applause, as Real players ran to celebrate what immediately felt like the defining moment of the match.
The drama was not over, even as Ancelotti rung the changes to bring on any defensive-minded player he could find on his bench. In the end, the best chance fell to Neymar just moments before the end of normal time. The Brazilian received the ball from Iniesta and Xavi before poking a left-footed shot around the onrushing Casillas.
Congrats to Madrid who are the deserved Copa Champions. They run more, wanted it more, got the tactics better and had Isco and Bale as stars— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) April 16, 2014
Both men could only watch on in suspense as the ball rebounded away off the far post and back toward the goalkeeper, who gathered and cleared—although not before patting the post that had saved him.
Bale had decided this final. The woodwork had helped confirm it. And Casillas lifted the trophy.
|Angel Di Maria||8|