Gareth Bale Steps Up and Delivers for Real Madrid When They Needed It Most

Rik SharmaFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2014

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We have been waiting for Gareth Bale to step up and deliver in a moment like this.

The Welshman has played well for Los Blancos since he signed for a world-record fee last summer, but there have been doubts about him in the big games.

Until Wednesday night's Copa del Rey final against arch-rivals Barcelona, he had gone missing in Real Madrid's toughest and most important fixtures.

Bale has bullied La Liga's lesser lights and has 14 La Liga goals for his side, behind team-mates Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema on 28 and 17 respectively.

And yet, he had not scored—or even impressed—in four games against Barcelona or Atletico Madrid, the club’s biggest rivals in the league.

Ronaldo was out of action for the Copa del Rey final and it left Bale playing in his place, with Angel Di Maria on the right and Karim Benzema spearheading the attack.

Cristiano Ronaldo (left) has been the star man for Madrid.
Cristiano Ronaldo (left) has been the star man for Madrid.Alberto Saiz

Those three players were exceptional for Carlo Ancelotti's side and key to Madrid's 2-1 victory, and their 19th Copa del Rey triumph.

Their relentless pressing and speed helped fluster Barcelona, with Benzema particularly aware of his defensive duties.

Bale worried Dani Alves frequently, scraping an early shot across the face of goal and rifling another narrowly over the bar.

An exquisite Bale turn on the edge of the Barcelona box nearly led to a goal in the first period, while his general work-rate was strong as well.

The moment that mattered came with just five minutes to go at the Mestalla.

Sprinting down the left flank, his favoured position at Tottenham but one which he has rarely played in for Madrid, Bale saw Marc Bartra charging towards him.

Barcelona's young centre-back flew in with a shoulder barge and you thought Bale was going to hit the deck.

The Welshman has gone down in a heap many times before in that situation and it would have been acceptable for him to do so again.

But he showed great strength and agility to stay on his feet, despite the defender's best efforts.

Then came the beauty: Bale realised that Bartra was no match for him in a 50-50 sprint and shot past the Barcelona man.

Bale prodded past Pinto to score the winner.
Bale prodded past Pinto to score the winner.David Ramos/Getty Images

He took the ball into the box, drove towards goal and from close range prodded past the ineffective Jose Manuel Pinto.

Ecstasy. The perfect moment. At last.

Bale leapt into the air, as did thousands of Madridistas.

They were singing his name at the Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid.

The square is a famous part of the city and supporters often gather there to celebrate important Real wins.

"It was definitely his most important goal for Madrid," Ancelotti said after the game, as per Yahoo. "It was the defining moment in the game."

Xabi Alonso added: "It was incredible, I have never seen anything like it. It look like the ball was going out, but he kept pushing and ran off the field to get it. It was amazing."

Xabi Alonso hailed his team-mate Bale.
Xabi Alonso hailed his team-mate Bale.David Ramos/Getty Images

Barcelona manager Tata Martino was astonished that the Welshman still had that much speed and strength in him at that stage of the game.

He said in his post-match press conference, as per Spanish language site AS, that it was rare to see a player still have as much pace and power as Bale as the match reached its last moments.

The start of his career at Real Madrid saw him plagued by frequent injuries and that, along with the time it takes for a player to settle in a new league and country, meant that many people had the knives out for Bale.

He was whistled at the Bernabeu after Real Madrid lost a couple of crucial games, but after his magnificent goal and excellent all-round showing on Wednesday night, Bale enters a new era of his career at the club.

And it is one that features the chance to win two more trophies this season: La Liga and the ultimate goal, La Decima—the Champions League.