The Welshman's mesmerising performance in the 7-3 win over Sevilla sent the Madrid fans and press into raptures, while Cristiano Ronaldo offered a humorous riposte to Sepp Blatter
At the end of the match they slumped back in their seats exhausted, tongues hanging out, trying to catch their breath. The players were pretty tired too. Approaching midnight on a Wednesday and no one could make sense of it all; a few hours' sleep later, Thursday now, time for work, they still couldn't. All they knew was that they'd enjoyed it; every mad minute of it. Uppers, downers, screamers and laughers, it had been some trip.
Where to start? How about at the end? When a game ends with a 91st-minute free-kick and the men standing over it giggling are Alvaro Arbeloa and Sergio Ramos, when the two most expensive players in history walk away grinning "go on then, your turn", and when a brilliant Ramos curler follows, stopped by an equally brilliant save and you think: "makes sense tonight," you know something's happened.
Something? Everything. "It lacked balance," said Carlo Ancelotti. Sod balance. It had everything else: more than 30 shots, one red card, three penalties, none of which were, three very particular celebrations, points proven, and 10 goals. Ten. The highest total at the Santiago Bernabéu since the 1967-68 season, even though both goalkeepers had been superb. Sevilla scored three and, for the first time in history, two penalties were given against Madrid at home, but still the visitors lost by four. It finished 7-3. And even the scoreline is deceptive: if that suggests a game that was always Madrid's, think again. The shot count is almost identical, 18 to 17, and the game stays alive, at least until the last 15 minutes. Fans are dragged into it, fighting for breath.
Coming off the clásico defeat, the night had started with whistles. It ended in an ovation, a kind of exhausted, empty, satisfied ovation. They could almost have laid back and lit up a cigarette.
Gareth Bale curls in a belting first and a deflected free-kick makes it 2-0. A penalty follows, a hat-trick perhaps? Cristiano Ronaldo, though, takes it. He has a point to prove. Only 31 minutes gone and it's 3-0 and Madrid are flying. After 39 minutes it's 3-2. Two in two minutes, first Ivan Rakitic, then Carlos Bacca. Game on. On 52 it's 4-2, Karim Benzema assisted by Bale; on 59 it's 5-2, Ronaldo assisted by Bale. Game off again. But on 62 it's 5-3. Rakitic scores the goal of the night, swinging in a gorgeous, deliberate 20-yarder. Ten minutes later, he has a penalty to make it 5-4. But 10 and a half minutes later it's 6-3: Rakitic misses, at the other end Ronaldo doesn't. Benzema then adds his second, Madrid's seventh. Ramos nearly makes it eight.
"Beautiful lunacy," El País calls it. Ancelotti calls it "mad". "It was a crazy game," Bale smiles.
The world's most expensive player makes his first start at home and scores two, provides two and plays 90 minutes. There are two more chances too: one flies just over, the other, a neat one-two with Benzema, is pushed away by Beto. What he does get is two goals with his left foot, two assists with his right. "Ten out of ten" declares AS, naming him the "motor of the game", the not-at-all-forced award sponsored by a car. "As well as talent he has a guardian angel," runs Juanma Trueba's match report. "He's accompanied by a chorus of fat little trumpet players with wings." Marca calls it an "exhibition." They mean Bale, but the whole thing was. By the end, it is impossible to keep up.
In one headline, Bale is likened to legend Ferenc Puskas, the man who one team-mate lovingly says "played pregnant" but had a left foot that was a "scandal". "Cañonito [little cannon] Bale," runs the headline, drawing on the Hungarian's "Cañonito pum!" [little cannon, bang!] nickname. But it is Ronaldo who overtakes Puskas to become the club's fifth all-time top scorer. Bale is one of three players to get two goals, along with Benzema and Rakitic. But Ronaldo outscores them all. He scores a hat-trick against Sevilla for the fourth season in a row. Oye, y si jugamos cada semana? Can we play you every week?
The timing could not be better … time for a celebration. When Bale scores, he leaps into the air and then does that heart thing. Benzema, meanwhile, runs to the bench to embrace Zinedine Zidane. As for Ronaldo, he stands to attention, saluting. Sepp Blatter had made the "worst mistake of his life," according to AS's resident mad Madridista Tomás Roncero. Worse than the Qatar thing or the short shorts thing or the racism thing or the [obscured on legal advice] thing. During the week, someone finds a video on line. At Oxford University, Blatter performs his drunk granddad at a wedding routine, a 77- year-old trying to make a bunch of 18-year-old students laugh.
Asked about Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, Blatter jokes that one spends more on the hairdresser than the other – a deeply offensive slight to Messi who he's basically accusing of having rubbish hair – and admits that he likes "them both very much" but prefers the Argentinian. "Leonard" Messi, he says, "is the good boy that every father would love to have" while the "other one" … He pauses then lurches up to perform a military march but he looks more like some robotic dinosaur whose batteries are dying, which when you think about it … "Ronaldo is like a commander," he says.
Ronaldo says he "understands certain things" now. Banners supporting him are dotted round the Bernabéu. He wants to score. So although Bale's on a hat-trick, he wants the penalty. He scores and two more follow taking him to a completely insane 157 league goals in 146 league games, 219 in 213 overall. He salutes. The slightest hint of a smirk stretches across his face. As responses go, this time it's pretty well impeccable, funny too, a break from the hysteria, paranoia and affected outrage of the previous 24 hours. "Commander Ronaldo," cheers the cover of AS; "Madrid present arms," says Marca.
"Blatter didn't exactly do us a favour," sighs Rakitic afterwards. "And nor did Barcelona."
It wasn't just Madrid-Sevilla. Apparently, it was Week 11 in the league, but it was hard enough to know what day it was. La Liga was in the middle of an 11-day run of league games: Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday ... it is Wednesday, right? … Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. Three 'weeks', 10, 11 and 12, running into each other, including the clásico; three matches each, crammed into seven days, everything changes, everyone sucked in. Everyone except the people who actually run the league. Friday's a day off, you see. Seriously: players who got suspended in Week 11 will all play in week 12 because the committee will not meet on Friday to ratify their suspensions.
Meanwhile, down in Seville, Betis's ultras invaded a training session and held a team meeting in the manager's office. New tactics: show your bollocks. In Vigo, Barcelona equal their best ever start: 10 wins, one draw, beating Celta 3-0. In Valladolid, 2-0 down becomes 2-2 and a last minute penalty to win it. Ebert shoots, but Bravo saves. In Pamplona, Osasuna escape the relegation zone and Rayo return to it. And down in bat country, Almería's goalkeeper, who's older than his manager, saves his manager and they clinch their first win of the season, beating Valencia 2-1 at Mestalla. The home fans whip out the white hankies while in the boardroom they decide it's probably time to sack the manager again. There's one small problem: the president said the manager would stay "no matter what" ... and, anyway, the president is in Singapore.
As the final minutes approach, the fear claws at Almería's nerves. They have been here before and have always blown it, defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. It's Almería time … but not this time. This time, the whistle goes, this time they hang on. The reaction, players leaping into each others' arms, the manager disappearing into a crowd of bodies, says it all. Now, at last, their season starts.
Results: Espanyol 0-0 Málaga, Celta Vigo 0-3 Barcelona, Valladolid 2-2 Real Sociedad, Valencia 1-2 Almería, Osasuna 3-1 Rayo Vallecano, Real Madrid 7-3 Sevilla
Friday: Villarreal-Getafe, Granada-Atlético Madrid, Real Betis-Levante, Athletic-Elche.