Santiago Solari insisted Gareth Bale was “ecstatic” after scoring Real Madrid’s winner against Levante on Sunday – despite the Wales star appearing to shrug off his team-mates’ celebrations on the pitch.
Bale rolled home a cheeky late penalty as Madrid recorded a somewhat controversial win, with both goals coming from the penalty spot via VAR and the second one withstanding a review despite an apparent dive from Casemiro.
But as team-mates converged to celebrate, the stony-faced forward – who had only just come on as a substitute – brushed them away and jogged back to the centre circle.
“He was ecstatic when I saw him in the dressing room having got his goal,” Solari said after the match. “That’s all your speculation because he was waiting to come on. I told him to wait.
“I’m thrilled with how he went out there and he looked hungry when he got on the pitch. He clinched the win for us and worked extremely hard. When we went down to 10 he was running for two up top and I thought he had a great game.
“You have an awful lot more eyes than we do, but we’re there and what I saw is how hungry he was to get on the pitch and help the team. I’m very pleased, he can celebrate the goals however he likes.”
Levante were left fuming by the decision to award the penalty, and by the fact that decision stood despite the review.
“I’ve seen the images but I trust my player more,” coach Paco Lopez said.
“When I have seen his gestures in the field, anyone who knows (Cheick) Doukoure knows that it is impossible to show that disapproval. Obviously, he says he has not touched it and it is not a penalty.
“The images speak for themselves, they are very clear.”
Karim Benzema scored Madrid’s first from the spot after Enis Bardhi raised his arm to block a cross, though it had not initially been spotted.
Roger Marti had already hit the post for Levante by then and did again before levelling on the hour mark.
But after Bale’s penalty, the match ended with angry scenes as Madrid’s Nacho Fernandez collected a second yellow card, as did Levante’s Ruben Rochina from the bench having already been substituted.
The win saw Madrid cut the gap to Barcelona to nine points ahead of next week’s Clasico, though the sides will first meet in the Copa del Rey in midweek.
“We take each match as it comes,” Solari added. “We are alive in three competitions and the most important match is the next one.”
Lopez may have had complaints about the officials, but could not be disappointed in his side’s performance.
“There was great effort, work, a very hard-working team up against one of the best in the world,” he said.
“We have shown again our DNA. We deserved a lot more than the final 1-2 scoreline.”
Asked if he felt his side had been the better team on the night, he added: “With all due respect, I believe that, yes.”