Tottenham Hotspur forward Gareth Bale was linked to Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid all through the summer for a reason. Andre Villas-Boas has a truly world-class player in the fleet-footed left-sided attacker and Scotland coach Craig Levein was given a reminder of the 23-year-old's prowess in a 1-2 defeat to neighbours Wales, in a qualifier for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Bale scored twice in the final ten minutes of a rain-soaked but thrilling encounter at Cardiff City Stadium. The match itself was of tremendous importance to both countries, who went into the Group A fixture winless after the first two games. Chris Coleman was still looking for his first win as Wales manager, while Levein needed to improve after only managing disappointing draws at home to Serbia and Macedonia in his opening two fixtures. With the likes of Belgium and Croatia favourites to qualify from this group, it was imperative to get three points on the board as soon as possible.
It was the away side who struck first though, with West Brom's James Morrison scoring just before the half hour mark. However, the Welsh stuck to their task and went toe to toe with their neighbours, with Bale, Liverpool's Joe Allen and Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey all proving to be a handful for Allan McGregor in the Scotland goal. Scotland, who fielded both Steven and Darren Fletcher from the start, saw little of the ball in the opening exchanges and Bale was their chief tormentor.
However, try as they might, Wales just couldn't find a way into the game after Morrison's opening goal. It needed a bit of luck, in the end, after German referee Florian Mayer seemed to get a penalty call wrong, judging Shaun Maloney to have clipped Bale's heels in the box. The Spurs star made absolutely no mistake and sealed all three dramatic points with a trademark 25-yard pile-driver into the top corner.
"We needed it to kick-start our campaign, and I hope it inspires us. We all knew coming into the game that it was a massive game for us. We had a disappointing result against Serbia and we let ourselves and the fans down," Bale explained after the game, adding, "We went 1-0 down [against Scotland] but showed character and fought back like men."
Coleman, meanwhile, was understandably delighted with the result and had special praise for his star of the evening.
"We showed great belief, great character and great strength and got what we deserved," the former Fulham boss insisted, adding, on Bale's efforts, "Massive - two goals, and people will talk about the winner, which is a great goal, but when we are 1-0 down in a home nation derby and we have lost the last few games, to step up and take the penalty - it was a great execution, nice and composed. He keeps on producing swashbuckling performances and doing things that not many other players are capable of doing."