Bale has the stage he craved
Updated: 2014-05-23 07:04
By Agence France-Presse in Madrid (China Daily)
Welsh star hopes to play major part in Real's bid for 10th Champions League title
On the final day of the Premier League season in May last year, Gareth Bale produced the latest in a series of wonder goals to hand Tottenham Hotspur a 1-0 win over Sunderland.
On Saturday, Bale will be playing in all white against a side in red and white stripes once more in his last game of the season, but in very different circumstances as Real Madrid meets Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final in Lisbon.
A Spurs victory wasn't enough that day to seal Champions League soccer as it lost out once more to north London neighbor Arsenal for fourth place and set in motion an anxious summer for Bale as he tried to force through a move to the world's richest club.
Finally, on Sept 1, a deal was officially announced with the Welshman reportedly becoming the most expensive player in world soccer in the move to the Spanish capital.
That summer stress and early criticism of his time at Madrid as he suffered from niggling injuries due to the lack of a preseason has now been long forgotten as Bale has the scene he craved waiting for him at the Estadio da Luz on Saturday.
"These are the reasons why you come to Real Madrid, to the biggest club in the world, to play in finals and try and win trophies and I am obviously looking forward to it," said the Welshman as he faced the glare of more than 300 media personnel at Real's open day ahead of the final.
"I always dreamed of playing a Champions League final. It was always the target and now it has come around. We have one more step to go and hopefully we can win the 10th title."
Real has been waiting 12 years for that 10th European Cup.
The search for La Decima, as it is known locally, has seen the club spend more than a billion euros ($1.37 billion) in player transfers alone to recreate the night when Zinedine Zidane's sensational volley handed it a ninth European crown against Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow.
Stunning winning goal
"I remember watching it. It was in Scotland at Hampden Park. It was a great moment for Real Madrid and hopefully we can repeat that," said Bale.
"I don't think we feel the pressure, or at least any added pressure. There is obviously pressure on anyone for a Champions League final, for any player and any team, but we are all very excited to have the opportunity and hopefully we can put a great performance in on Saturday and lift the trophy.
"I don't think it is an obsession. If you ask any player in world football it is a dream to win the Champions League and that comes with its own pressure for ourselves, but one we can live with and conquer."
Bale has already written himself into the history of the club with a stunning winning goal in a final as his 50-yard dash and finish won the Copa del Rey trophy against Barcelona last month.
But he insists it doesn't matter if it is he, World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, or anyone else who scores the winner as long as the famous trophy with the big ears is decorated with white ribbons come fulltime on Saturday.
"I hope I can score the winner again because that means we will win.
"It is going to be a difficult game, we know Atletico are in a good moment this season and for us, no matter who scores the winner, we are going to be very happy and that is what we are targeting.
"Cristiano is a fantastic player. I can't say much more because he is so great. He has proved it season in, season out what a world-class player he is and it is obviously an honor and a privilege to play with him. Hopefully we can put together one last game and win this title."
FIVE ALL-MADRID CLASSICS
Real Madrid 2 Atletico Madrid 1, European Cup semifinal, May 13, 1959
Three matches were needed to decide the only previous meeting between the sides in European competition in the semifinals of the European Cup in 1959.
Real won the first leg 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu before Atletico leveled the tie two weeks later with a 1-0 victory.
In the days before the away goals rule, Real won a playoff held in Zaragoza 2-1 thanks to goals from the legendary Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas on its way to winning the competition for a fourth consecutive season.
Atletico Madrid 3 Real Madrid 1, Copa del Rey final, June 26, 1960
Atletico got its revenge by beating a Real side coming toward the end of its golden age by winning its first Copa del Rey with a 3-1 victory in the final.
The scene of the triumph at the Bernabeu made the result all the sweeter for Atletico, which had to come from behind as, after Puskas put Real in front, goals from Enrique Collar, Miguel Jones Castillo and Joaquin Peiro handed it the Cup.
Real Madrid 1 Atletico Madrid 3, La Liga, Oct 30, 1999
In what was to become the worst season in Atletico's history as it was relegated from the top flight, there was one moment of glory for Los Rojiblancos as one of just nine league victories that season came at the Bernabeu thanks to two goals from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and another from Jose Mari after Fernando Morientes' opener for Real.
Atletico Madrid 1 Real Madrid 4, La Liga, April 10, 2012
Needing to win to keep Pep Guardiola's Barcelona side from having a fourth successive La Liga title, Real traveled across the Spanish capital and got the victory it required thanks to a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo.
The game wasn't as easy as the final scoreline suggests as Atletico equalized on the hour mark through Radamel Falcao, but a dipping drive from Ronaldo restored the lead before he rounded off his hat-trick with a penalty and Jose Maria Callejon rubbed salt into Atletico's wounds with a fourth in stoppage time.
Real Madrid 1 Atletico Madrid 2, Copa del Rey final, May 17, 2013
That 4-1 defeat at the Calderon a year previously had been Diego Simeone's first Madrid derby in charge of Atletico and his transformative effect on his side was finally rewarded with a first win over Real in 14 years in last season's Copa del Rey final.
Again Atletico was forced to come from behind at the Bernabeu as Ronaldo headed Real in front, but Diego Costa quickly leveled and Miranda handed Atletico its third trophy in Simeone's 18-month reign when he glanced home Koke's cross in extra time.
Gareth Bale will be key to Real Madrid's title charge in the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid on Saturday. Gabriel Bouys / Agence France-presse
(China Daily 05/23/2014 page23)