Gareth Bale marked his first appearance as the world’s most expensive footballer with a brilliant display from the bench in Wales’s World Cup qualification defeat to Serbia.
The €100m man has yet to feature for Real Madrid since his deadline day transfer from Tottenham Hotspur, but was introduced for the final 30 minutes of Tuesday’s game at the Cardiff City Stadium.
The evening had been fairly bleak for the Welsh faithful up until that point with the visitors racing into a 3-0 lead by the time Bale made his entrance.
But despite not having played a competitive game for almost four months, the 24-year-old showed no signs of rustiness and immediately injected some much-needed pace and quality into the Wales performance.
Madrid’s newest recruit fizzed a couple of shots at goal from distance within five minutes of coming on, with Vladimir Stojkovic reacting smartly to repel one drive before another fierce effort flew past the keeper's post.
Bale has only played in pre-season friendlies for Spurs since the end of last season, but that lack of competitive action appeared to have little effect as the winger flew at the Serbians with typical gusto.
One rapier-like run left a couple of defenders flailing at thin air before the danger was diverted for a corner and the highlight of the night for the hosts was a deft nutmeg from Bale on hapless Manchester City full-back Aleksandar Kolarov.
His presence rallied both the crowd and his team-mates in what was largely an exhibition clash in Group A, with neither side able to qualify for the World Cup finals.
Chris Coleman’s men started and finished the night bottom of the pile after going down to goals from Filip Dordevic, Kolarov and Benfica protégé Lazar Markovic, and Bale’s chances of appearing at a major international tournament appear slim after his countrymen’s latest failure, especially given that Wales have now lost nine of their last 13 games.
Bale could be in line to make his Madrid bow when Carlo Ancelotti's side face Villarreal this weekend.