Real Madrid’s record signing Gareth Bale was hailed as the “Prince of Goals” in the Spanish press yesterday after his hat-trick and assist in Saturday’s 4-0 La Liga win at home to Real Valladolid.
With prolific Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo sidelined by injury, Bale stepped up to net his first treble since his 100 million euro (US$136 million) move from Tottenham Hotspur and coach Carlo Ancelotti suggested the Wales winger’s adaptation period was over.
“He is in good shape, he is confident and he is a very important player for us,” Ancelotti told a news conference. “He performed very well today.”
Bale’s pre-season preparations were disrupted by the protracted negotiations over his transfer and he then picked up a minor muscle strain, but now appears to be back to full fitness and eager to impress the Real faithful.
Saturday’s haul was a so-called “perfect hat-trick” — a header and a goal scored with each foot — and was only the second La Liga treble by a Briton after Gary Lineker’s for Barcelona in 1987.
Sports daily As acclaimed Bale on their front page yesterday as “Prince of Wales” (Principe de Gales), while rival newspaper Marca went for the headline “Prince of Goals” (Principe de Goles).
“It is always a pleasure to score, but even more when you are able to score a hat-trick at the Santiago Bernabeu,” Bale told reporters after grabbing a match ball and soaking up a post-match ovation.
“I am very happy here,” the 24-year-old added. “I needed time to adapt after not having a proper pre-season, but now I am improving. I want to continue improving and working hard in the matches and in training and learn from the best, like Cristiano Ronaldo.”
Bale took his tally to eight goals in his past seven games.
With Ronaldo out with a slight muscle strain, Bale proved to be decisive as he headed home the opener, after Diego Marino could only parry Angel di Maria’s cross.
Three minutes later, the Welshman teed up Karim Benzema to double Madrid’s lead with a wonderful in-swinging cross that the Frenchman bulleted home.
Bale grabbed his second of the game when Carlos Pena could only turn Marcelo’s cross into the path of the grateful former Tottenham man to slot home.
And Marcelo was again the provider as Bale completed his first hat-trick in Spanish soccer with a simple left-footed finish a minute from time.
Victory moved Real to within three points of leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, who were also 2-0 victors over Elche. After a first-half devoid of clear-cut scoring opportunities, Atletico took the lead on 63 minutes, when Koke bundled home from close range when Manuel Herrera could only parry Raul Garcia’s shot from distance.
Costa had endured a quiet afternoon by his standards, but he doubled the advantage 11 minutes later as he raced onto Adrian Lopez’s through ball, before slotting home his 18th goal of the season.
In other La Liga games on Saturday, RC Celta de Vigo beat UD Almeria 3-1, while Real Sociedad beat RCD Espanyol 2-1.