Gareth Bale could not believe that he was denied the winning goal in the clásico but insisted Real Madrid were so superior in the final stages of the game that he was convinced they would get more chances to take what he called “sweet” revenge on Barcelona – even though there were only 10 minutes remaining.
The goal that secured Madrid a 2-1 win at the Camp Nou eventually came from Cristiano Ronaldo and Bale suggested this win was a warning as the season enters the final, decisive weeks.
The Welshman said that while winning the league remains a difficult task, Madrid will fight for the title to the end and claimed victory here puts them “in a strong position mentally” as they prepare for the Champions League quarter-finals. “We can beat anyone on our day,” he said after Real had become the first team to beat Barcelona in 40 games, ending a run that goes back six months.
There were worrying signs for Barcelona, while Madrid appear to be reaching full fitness at last. They also appear to be finding a footballing identity. That, at least, was the way Bale saw it.
Barcelona took the lead through Gerard Piqué but Karim Benzema equalised before Bale leapt above Jordi Alba to head in the goal that should have won the game in the 80th minute. As Bale celebrated, the referee raised his hand to signal for a foul, even though there appeared to be nothing wrong with the goal.
“I can’t believe it was disallowed,” Bale admitted. “[The referee] said to me that I pushed him. I didn’t even touch the guy. I was just a bit taller. I made sure I got over the top, I made sure I didn’t touch him because I know what the Spanish referees are like. It was a very bad decision in my eyes.”
There were 10 minutes left and Sergio Ramos was sent off two minutes later but, asked if he thought the chance had gone, Bale replied: “No, not really because I knew we had a lot of pace on the counterattack. I still felt fresh and could sprint a lot more. We always felt we could hit them on the counterattack even with 10 men.
So it proved. Five minutes later, Bale delivered the right-footed cross for Ronaldo to head in the winner. “I had seen him coming in the back post,” Bale said. “I knew I had to flight it to get it over. Obviously I had to judge it. It was nice for it to drop to him and thankfully it went in.”
“We had a gameplan, we know we’ve got speed on the counterattack so we used that to our advantage. We know obviously if you attack them they’re not the best defensive team in the world. They’re great at attacking so we worked on that in training and it has paid off.
“We’ve got belief in ourselves and we’ve been working hard on our fitness in training. Maybe being out of the Copa del Rey [throughout January] helps a little bit: we’ve had less games. We’re feeling strong, confident now, and it’s one final push until the end of the season.”
He added: “Tonight really does put us mentally in a strong position. We can beat anyone on our day: we showed that. People have been saying Barcelona are the best team and we beat them in their own back yard tonight.”
Real Madrid’s victory puts them seven points behind Barcelona with seven games remaining. Bale insisted Madrid will fight for the title but even if they cannot win it this result was “massive” for them.
“I think if the league’s still [mathematically] possible to win then we fully believe we can do it,” he said. “We know it’s not going to be easy, it’s very against us, but if we give ourselves a chance that’s all we can do. The most important thing today was to get the win, build confidence for the rest of the season. There’s still the Champions League as well, which we’re really looking forward to. It’s about building and growing strong.”
Asked if this result could not only provide a boost for Madrid but a blow for Barcelona, he said: “That’s what we’re hoping for. If we want to win the league, this was a game we had to win. You never know, football does funny things to teams when you lose and you never know what could happen. All they need is a few bad results and we need a few good ones and we’re right back in.”
“I’ve played in some big derbies and this one is the biggest, even if we were out of the league to beat them is always sweet,” Bale added. “It wasn’t nice losing 4-0 at home [to Barcelona earlier in the season] and the main thing we wanted to win was get one up on them, especially in their own back yard. It’s all about momentum, pushing into the end of the season and hopefully we can take this performance in to the next.
“As I say, mentally, this puts us in a great position but have to keep working hard tonight. There’s a long way to go in the Champions League and the league and we still have to keep working hard and keep fighting all the way.”
And so Spurs could win the league and Real Madrid the Champions League. “That would be great,” Bale smiled. “It would be the perfect end to the season.”
This article was written by Sid Lowe at the Camp Nou, for theguardian.com on Sunday 3rd April 2016 01.11 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010