Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Gareth Bale sent Wales fans into raptures in the 25th minute of their crucial World Cup semi-final play-off match with Austria on Thursday night with one of the most perfect free-kicks you’ll ever see.
Let’s set the scene. Wales began the match at Cardiff City Stadium in nervy fashion, with 64 years of World Cup pain on their shoulders weighing heavy. The Austrians had started the game well with the perfect game-plan but midway through the first period Harry Wilson was felled by a crude block from Christoph Baumgartner just outside the box. The free-kick was in a good position – not perfect, by any means. But with Bale in the ranks, anything is possible.
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From the moment he stepped up, you know what was coming. The Real Madrid man – called a parasite by the Spanish press – hit the free-kick in a knuckleball style and it went straight into the top corner. Cue bedlam.
“There was no dummy run, 30,000 people knew he was going to take that free-kick,” said former Wales player Sam Ricketts on the BBC. “There could be 10 players in the wall and no matter how many goalkeepers, nobody is saving that. Even if he’s 60% or 70% fit he’s got that level of ability. How many other players in the world could score that goal?”
“What a fantastic finish!” added former Wales striker Nathan Blake. “He’s hit it so well – the keeper has no chance. A sublime finish with absolutely brilliant technique!”
Pure joy. Bale went on to score again in the second half as Wales won the game 2-1.