Madrid — Much-criticised for his inconsistent form and long injury absences, Gareth Bale was for a change declared Real Madrid’s hero on Wednesday after saving a young side from an embarrassing Copa del Rey loss.
Real had a two-goal advantage over third-tier Fuenlabrada entering the second leg, but a young side had fallen behind at home when the Welshman came off the bench.
"Bale prevents a disaster," read Madrid sports daily Marca’s front page after Bale, in his first appearance for two months, helped tee up a double for Borja Mayoral in the final 27 minutes. Despite a late goal that earned the visitors a 2-2 draw, Real had done enough to win 4-2 on aggregate and seal a place in the last 16 of the competition.
It has been a testing year for Bale, the world’s most expensive player, when Real splashed out just more than €100m to bring him to Spain in 2013.
He has completed 90 minutes with Real just four times since injuring ankle ligaments against Sporting Lisbon in November 2016.
A series of calf problems followed, which meant he had to settle for a place on the bench on his homecoming to Cardiff for the Champions League final when Real thrashed Juventus 4-1 in June.
However, his ability to score and create has been missed in the early part of this season as Madrid have fallen eight points behind Barcelona in La Liga and are doomed to finish second to Bale’s old club, Tottenham Hotspur, in Champions League Group H.
In desperate circumstances, fans at the Santiago Bernabeu rose to acclaim Bale as a returning hero when he made his entrance 28 minutes from time.
Virtually his first touch, a sumptuous cross with the outside of his left foot, gave Mayoral an easy task to settle Real’s nerves.