Gareth Bale was the centrepiece of a thrilling and dramatic 2-1 win for Wales in a Home Nations derby against Scotland on Friday, which provided a first win for manager Chris Coleman and simultaneously all but extinguished the opponents' chance of qualifying for the World Cup in 2014.
As Wales struggled to get a foothold in the game and were seemingly condemned to a fifth straight defeat on the trot after Steven Fletcher flicked on for James Morrison to poach a highly avoidable goal, Bale was the single-handed countervailing force of positivity, demonstrating both leadership qualities and new dimensions of technical skill in his deployment of previously-unseen right-footed crosses.
His hard work finally paid off in the 81st minute when he won a contentious penalty after an apparent clip from Shaun Maloney. After amusingly wrestling the ball off of Aaron Ramsey (a fair shout after watching others continually waste the chances he created throughout the night), Bale home slotted the chilliest of cool-headed penalties to level the tie.
Not content with merely giving the Welsh a faint glimmer of hope that their hopes of progressing could be salvaged, Bale then stepped up in the 86th minute to put away what I would argue to be his best ever career goal. Under tight pressure from his arch nemesis Charlie Adam, Bale made a slightly arcing run towards the area before pinging a totally unexpected and picture perfect 30-yard shot which nestled into the top corner across his own body, sending the Welsh contingent of the crowd into raptures and announcing Bale as a figure of commanding authority within a beleaguered Wales side badly needing leadership.
There are a few negative points about Bale's performance that I will be addressing in later pieces, but for now I want to focus on the positives. For a player often criticized for lacking maturity, there's no doubt that our Gareth looked in every sense like the spiritual successor to Craig Bellamy, or even more flatteringly Ryan Giggs, two captains who defined the respective Welsh sides they played in. As a winger who created, actively took responsibility for taking a crucial penalty, and ultimately used his steely focus and sheer ability to decide the game for his team, Bale did much to reverse the opinion I had recently developed that he couldn't be relied on the drive the team on at crunch times. In claiming that ball off of Ramsey he instantly looked less of an ostentatious attention seeker and more a player who actually cares about seeing the job done right for his side.
I won't say future Spurs captain just yet, but when the team needs someone to put them on their back, let's just say Bale's tremendous performances against Milan are looking less like a fluke and more like a display of the winger's true mental steel than we might have first thought.
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