Gareth Bale wondergoal makes him a Real Madrid hero - video
Stunning solo strike wins Copa del Rey for Madrid and brings down the curtain on the era of Barcelona
IT MAY have taken a while, but Gareth Bale finally announced his arrival in Spanish football with a sensational solo goal that won the Copa del Rey for Real Madrid, dispelled many of the doubts over his temperament and condemned Los Blancos' arch rivals, Barcelona, to a third ignominious defeat in the space of a week.
After a season in which he has flickered rather than shone, and in the absence of limelight hogging team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, Bale illuminated the cup final and all but vindicated his world record transfer fee.
The defining moment came with the score at 1-1 and 85 minutes on the clock when the Welshman picked up the ball on halfway before electrifying the Mestalla Stadium with a searing burst of pace that sent him surging past Barcelona centre back Marc Bartra and through on goal.
Bearing down on keeper Jose Pinto, Bale calmly slotted the ball in at the near-post to secure his first major honour with Los Blancos and resoundingly silence all those who continue to question his £85m price tag.
It was a clear demonstration of "precisely why he is the world's most expensive footballer", says Jim White in the Daily Telegraph. "It was a magnificent contribution from the former Spur, the goal that brought him the first piece of silverware of his career, the goal that proved the doubters wrong: boy, can he deliver in the games that count."
Before last night not everyone would have agreed. There was "widespread scepticism" says Peter Staunton of Goal.com, when Floretino Perez decided to part with €100m to secure Bale's signature in the summer. And though the 24-year-old went into last night’s game with 19 goals and 16 assists for Real, there were still concerns at the Bernabeu regarding Bale's return on investment.
The Welshman had failed to perform in either of the preceding Clasico fixtures this season, both of which were won by Barcelona, and with Madrid's top scorer, and 2014 Ballon d'Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo sidelined through injury, there were doubts about Madrid’s attacking potency and whether Bale could perform on the big stage.
He proved he could and Bale's name "is now etched forever into Blancos folklore thanks to this landmark goal", says Staunton.
There will be more challenges to come, writes Sid Lowe in The Guardian, but "Bale may already have a defining moment for his debut season in Spain".
But while Bale and Madrid are in the ascendency, Barca are in free-fall. Last night’s defeat was a third consecutive loss for Tata Martino's side and the Catalan giants are likely to end the season without silverware for the first time since 2007.
"Barcelona have lost it all in seven days," says Lowe.
Much of the blame has been attributed to the methods of manager Martino's, raising significant concerns about the Argentine's future at the Camp Nou. Barca have not lost three consecutive games since 2003, and scandal off the pitch has further tarnished their reputation.
And because of that Bale's goal has an even more significant meaning. "It confirmed what we had all been hearing: the era of Barcelona really is coming to a conclusion," says Jim White.