Real Madrid 2 Fuenlabrada 2 (4-2 agg): Returning Bale key as Zidane's men progress
Gareth Bale provided a superb assist on his return from injury as Real Madrid battled to a 2-2 draw against Fuenlabrada on Tuesday, Zinedine Zidane's men progressing to the last 16 of the Copa Del Rey 4-2 on aggregate.
Controversial penalties from Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez had given Madrid enough of an advantage from the first leg that Zidane named a team with an average age of 22 years and 156 days, the youngest XI he had picked at the club.
Fuenlabrada were given hope by the inexperienced team named by the Frenchman and the Segunda B side - who held Madrid's reserves Castilla 0-0 on Saturday - took a deserved lead against their under-strength neighbours.
Luis Milla's rocket from 25 yards was tipped on to the crossbar by fit-again goalkeeper Keylor Navas, the ball ricocheting off the Costa Rica international and into his own goal.
With Madrid unable to break down Fuenlabrada, Zidane brought on Bale after half-time and seconds after his introduction, with his first touch, the winger crossed for Borja Mayoral to head in his second goal of the season – immediately relieving any tension inside the Santiago Bernabeu.
And Bale and Mayoral teamed up again to settle the tie, the Welshman's initial effort saved by Pol Freixanet only for the young striker to keep his composure and slot in from close range.
Despite guaranteeing their progression Madrid were unable to hold on to victory on the night, though, as Alvaro Portilla secured a memorable draw for the visitors late on.
— Sergio Ramos (@SergioRamos) November 28, 2017
Fuenlabrada had a huge chance to reduce the first-leg deficit in just the fourth minute, Matheus Aias spinning away from a throw-in to pull back a low cross for Hugo Fraile, who should have scored but drilled his shot wide of the post.
And the visitors' bright start continued as Aias beat the offside trap to burst into the box only to fire straight at Navas, the Madrid goalkeeper making his first appearance since October.
A callow Madrid were struggling to exert any pressure on the third-tier side and, incredibly, Fuenlabrada took the lead after 25 minutes.
A corner was cleared to Milla and with no Madrid players closing him down the midfielder let fly with a thumping 25-yard drive that hit the crossbar and deflected in off an unfortunate Navas.
Marcos Llorente slammed a rebound over the crossbar and Freixanet was then tested for the first time, diving to his left to palm away a curling strike from Mayoral.
After the interval, Fraile free-kicks created headed chances for Aias and Cata Diaz, the latter seeing his effort crash against the crossbar, prompting a worried Zidane to send for Bale just after the hour.
1 - Gareth Bale has assisted in his first touch of the game against Fuenlabrada. Express. pic.twitter.com/EcuErqrn9z
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 28, 2017
And the Wales international had an immediate impact, providing the cross that levelled the scores on the night and guaranteed Madrid's progression into the next round.
Bale, returning from two months out, only had a pocket of space on the right wing but sent a sensational centre to the back post with the outside of his left boot, Mayoral stooping to head in via the woodwork.
Mayoral struck his second of the night eight minutes later with Bale again instrumental, the young striker on hand to turn in the rebound after his team-mate's shot was blocked.
Although that strike extinguished any hopes Fuenlabrada had of progressing, substitute Portilla gave the club a moment to remember with a minute to go, scoring at the second attempt to claim a second-leg draw.