Copa del Rey: Gareth Bale shines in Real Madrid's 3-1 win over Unionistas

Real Madrid won 3-1 but was given a scare by minnow Unionistas de Salamanca in an entertaining Copa del Rey last-32 tie.

Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale's goal was another reminder he can be a big contributor to this team when coach Zinedine Zidane chooses to use him.

Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale's goal was another reminder he can be a big contributor to this team when coach Zinedine Zidane chooses to use him.   -  Getty Images

Alvaro Romero scored one of the solo goals of the season against Real Madrid, and little Unionistas de Salamanca was in dreamland on the hour mark of this Copa del Rey culture clash.

Madrid, thanks to Gareth Bale, a Juan Gongora own goal and Brahim Diaz's late individual effort, eventually won 3-1 at the tiny Las Pistas stadium, where 4,000 supporters of a club, that has only existed since 2013, saw their side go head to head with the 13-time European champion.

Yet Romero's stunning effort after 57 minutes will live far longer in the memory than the goals that won the day for Madrid.

The substitute had been on the field barely a minute when he ran from just inside Madrid's half to the edge of the penalty area before curling a fine left-footed finish out of the reach of Alphonse Areola.

That brought Unionistas level, following Bale's first-half effort, but parity was all too brief, with the 62nd-minute own goal and Diaz's neat stoppage-time finish deciding the day, the Segunda B minnow just edged out by its millionaire visitor.

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Zinedine Zidane said his Madrid players would be able to handle the stadium's testing conditions by calling on memories of their formative years in football, but this was as basic a pitch as they would have encountered in a long time.

Covered in snow on Tuesday morning, it had been effectively cleared but was hardly an ideal surface.

Bale, whose agent, on Wednesday, scotched talk of a possible loan move away from Madrid this month, made the breakthrough after 18 minutes with a deflected right-footed shot into the bottom right corner, one that goalkeeper Brais Pereiro might regret failing to reach.

James Rodriguez should have doubled its lead early in the second half but saw his close-range effort palmed away by Pereiro.

Unionistas had barely threatened but it levelled in the 57th minute with a lovely solo strike from substitute Romero, a giddy cup-tie goal from the diminutive winger, the sort that would be replayed for years on end if it had triggered a shock result.

As it was, Madrid regained the lead inside five minutes, with Diaz and Gongora practically falling over a cross from Marcelo, the ball trickling into the bottom right corner.

Carlos de la Nava spurned a glorious chance for the host in the 78th minute, before Diaz and Luka Jovic both hit the Unionistas woodwork seconds apart.

Finally, Diaz darted in from the right in the dying moments to give Madrid a two-goal cushion and a belated sense of relief as the side's place in the last 16 was secured.
 

What does it mean? Madrid gets the job done

This always looked a tricky assignment for Madrid, albeit not in the sense it was ever likely to lose. The pitch was awful, the opponent rose to the occasion, and the crowd revelled in the big night. Unionistas is fan-funded and there was a sense that this night was full of significance. The old Salamanca club, which went out of business in 2013, spent brief time in the top flight, but this city has been starved of footballing success for years. Madrid came and it conquered, yet one got the sense it just wanted to get home.

Bale-d out

Winger Bale looked to have picked up a knock by the time he came off early in the second half, replaced by Diaz. The Welshman had been Madrid's most creative player to that point, even if he was not at his explosive best. His goal was no thing of beauty, but it was another reminder he can be a big contributor to this team when Zidane chooses to use him. Diaz dazzled too as a substitute, giving the coach a nudge about his qualities.

James fluffs his lines

The rare chance of a start for James should have been capped with a goal, but the Colombian could not put away a glaring chance after Bale and Vinicius Junior combined. On a night where he could have showed off his talent, he barely caught the eye aside from the miss.

What's next?

Madrid, level on points with Barcelona at the top of LaLiga, travels to face Valladolid on Sunday. Unionistas, mid-table in its division, faces Deportivo Alaves B earlier the same day.

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