Bale savours victory as Real peg Barca back
Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid
Gareth Bale beamed with the intense satisfaction of one who had again shown the best of himself in a Clasico.
While there was much angst that his late headed goal had been wrongly ruled out, the Welshman could reflect fondly that his perfect cross a minute later had teed up Cristiano Ronaldo to plunder Real Madrid's first triumph at the Nou Camp for four years.
"I had seen him coming in at the back post," Bale explained. "I knew I had to flight it to get it over. I had to judge it right."
The moment offered further proof that, in a finely balanced game, Bale's inexhaustible engine can be relied upon to make a difference.
His defining flourish of a mercurial two-and-a-half-year Real career remains the turbocharged solo goal, skinning Marc Bartra for pace, to win the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona in 2014.
Here, again, he was the decisive inspiration for Real's comeback just as Barca seemed poised to build an unassailable 10-point La Liga lead.
"I still felt fresh - as if I could sprint a lot more," he said after Real prevailed - despite having Sergio Ramos sent off for one cynical tackle too many on Luis Suarez.
"We always felt we could hit them on the counter-attack, even with 10 men."
How long ago the misery seemed of Bale's last Clasico - a 4-0 drubbing at the Bernabeu that ended with thousands of Real supporters waving white handkerchiefs of surrender.
While Real remain seven points adrift in the title race, Bale predicted that this result could force Barcelona to show a few psychological frailties.
"That's what we're hoping for," he said. "If we want to win the league, this was a game we had to win. Football does funny things to teams that lose. All they need is a few bad results and we are right back in."
Granted, the exasperation of having a goal ruled out, only for Ronaldo to take the glory within 60 seconds, still rankled.
"I can't believe it was disallowed," he said, criticising the referee for claiming that he shoved Jordi Alba.
But Bale was so euphoric about the ultimate outcome that he even dared to imagine his dream script for the season - an 11th European Cup win for Real, coupled with a Premier League title for Tottenham, his former club.
In Europe, the portents are promising. A quarter-final draw against Wolfsburg is as benign as Real could have wished for at this stage of the competition.
Real's second-half revival, coming from behind after Gerard Pique's precise header appeared to have laid Barca's platform for victory, attested to the truth of Bale's words.
Karim Benzema's scissored volley gave them cause to believe, before Ronaldo's late intervention, atoning for a heavy first touch by firing the ball home from a tight angle, and suggested that Spain's so far one-sided domestic campaign might have life in it yet.
Real Madrid are, one senses, more preoccupied with a repeat of their Champions League heroics of two years ago, as talk of the 'Undecima' - the 11th - refuses to subside.
They could well accomplish it, even if two more Clasicos potentially lurk in their path at the semi-final stage.
This was a display to illustrate, though, that many of their recent fears about Barcelona had been conquered.
It is a tribute to the management of Zinedine Zidane that Real have moved on so quickly from the rancour and backbiting that characterised the reign of his predecessor, Rafael Benitez.
In just two months, he has restored the verve and the sense of unity, even as rumours swirl around the future of Ronaldo.
For all the overtures of Paris Saint-Germain, the Portuguese was content to act as the team player after the final whistle, posing for a team photograph in only his underwear - stitched, naturally, with the No 7.
There was a glint in Zidane's eye when he was asked why Real Madrid seemed to finish the match far stronger than Barcelona, despite having one player fewer on the field.
"It gives you a lift when you score here," he said smiling. He would know, having played this fixture many times.
Now he had won his first meeting with Barcelona from the dug-out - something no coach has done since Bernd Schuster in 2007. He did so by smothering them in midfield and overpowering them in the final third.
Real ought to be wary, however, of overdoing the delirium in the wake of such a cathartic night.
To judge by their celebrations, one would have thought they had won the league, not merely taken three points off the runaway leaders.
They should heed the words of Luis Enrique, the Barcelona manager, who said: "This game no longer exists."