An international break has come around, so it was no surprise to see Gareth Bale in top form for Wales once again.
The Welshman helped his country to the World Cup play-off finals, scoring a brilliant double to seal a 2-1 win over Austria.
Bale's performance came off the back of some stinging criticism from the Spanish press over his marginal role at Real Madrid. The Real man bit back - quite literally - at the media in Spain with both his goal celebration and his comments in the post-match interviews.
Gareth Bale: Welshman sends clear message to Madrid
Wales took on Austria on Thursday night in Cardiff, with the hope of putting themselves through to a play-off against either Scotland or Ukraine to reach this year's World Cup. As they have done so many times before, Wales relied on the brilliance of Gareth Bale to win the day.
Bale's first goal was one of his best for club or country, as he curled a perfectly placed free-kick into the corner to send Wales on their way. His celebration after scoring, however, was what caught the attention of some punters.
THAT. IS. SENSATIONAL. 😍🏴
This is world-class from Gareth Bale 👏 pic.twitter.com/DXHMonDMVy
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) March 24, 2022
Bale appeared to mimic biting into the camera, in a nod to a vitriolic article about the Welshman published in Madrid newspaper Marca this week.
The infamous Spanish paper called Bale a "parasite" who was leeching Real Madrid of their money. The article came in the wake of Real's shocking 0-4 defeat to Barcelona, in which Bale did not play.
Speaking in his post-match interview, Bale acknowledged the article and the hostility from the Spanish press, calling it "disgusting":
I don't need to send a message, honestly. I don't need to say anything - it's a waste of my time and it's disgusting. They should also be ashamed of themselves. I'm not fussed - end of.
"It's disgusting. They should be ashamed of themselves." 🗣
Gareth Bale has hit out at the Spanish press headlines that targeted him ahead of Wales' play-off game against Austria.pic.twitter.com/2DMQHbEvo0
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) March 25, 2022
Gareth Bale's struggles at Real Madrid in recent years have been well-documented.
He arrived from Tottenham Hotspur for a world record transfer fee in 2013 to much fanfare and, for the first few years of his time in Spain, lived up to the hype.
The crucial game-swinging goal in the 2014 Champions League final was the early highlight for Bale. He formed a ruthless front three alongside Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo but, when Zinedine Zidane took over as manager in 2016, Bale began to fall out of favour.
He has drifted further and further from the starting lineup in recent years, with limited opportunities to make an impact off the bench - which he famously did in spectacular fashion in the 2018 Champions League final.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) September 2, 2019
The departure of Zinedine Zidane as manager last summer marked one last chance for Bale to get his Madrid career back on track - but that has gone up in smoke with limited chances once again under Carlo Ancelotti.
To say Bale is a "divisive" character in Madrid would be an understatement - quite extraordinary for a man who has won four Champions Leagues at the club, scoring in two finals.
His contract in the Spanish capital is up in June, and we would be extremely surprised to see the Welshman stay in Madrid any longer.
Nonetheless, he has regularly professed his love for playing for his country - infamously holding a banner reading "Wales, Golf, Madrid - In That Order" post-match in November 2019.
Gareth Bale may be struggling in Madrid, but he continues to make a mark on international football in a manner managed by few others in the modern age.