Gareth Bale was given his chance to shine on the biggest stage of all on Saturday as he made his El Clasico debut for Real Madrid against Barcelona on Saturday.
However, unfortunately for the Welshman, it was another expensive import making his bow in the fixture who shone, as Neymar scored Barca’s opener and then teed up Alexis Sanchez to make the game safe 12 minutes from time.
Jese Rodriguez pulled a goal back for Madrid in stoppage time to make the final score 2-1, but Bale had long since departed by that point as he was replaced by Karim Benzema with half an hour remaining.
“I am very happy to score such a special goal, but above all for the three points that we achieved,” said Neymar. “It was very exciting to score in the game that every player wants to play in.”
The contrast between the summer’s blockbuster signings couldn’t have been greater and merely summed up the difference in how they have adapted to La Liga in their first two months in Spain.
Neymar has benefited massively from the relatively swift process that saw his 57 million euro (USD 78.1 million, 48.3 million pounds) move from Santos completed before Barca had even completed last season.
The Brazilian arrived to a hero’s welcome in the Catalan capital on the first Monday in June before returning to his homeland to take the world, and even some of his new teammates, by storm by guiding his country to the Confederations Cup with a 3-0 win over Spain.
On Saturday night, it wasn’t merely that the 21-year-old outshone Bale, he was he standout player on the pitch, overshadowing the world’s best in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
His goal may only have been his fourth in 14 appearances, but his through ball from which Sanchez finished the contest with a nonchalant lob over Lopez was already his seventh assist, making him the chief goal creator in a side boasting the talents of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Cesc Fabregas.
“Neymar played a great game,” Barca boss Gerardo Martino added. “To score a goal in the Clasico creates a huge impact.” Bale, by contrast, had a much more anxious summer as he waited to see if his dream move to the world’s richest club would finally come off.