- Real Madrid win the Copa del Rey after beating Barcelona 2-1
- Gareth Bale scores a stunning winning goal in the 85th minute
- Angel di Maria put Real ahead in the first half before Marc Bartra equalized
- Barca lose three games in a row for the first time since January 2003
It may have cost a reported $134 million to bring Gareth Bale to Spain, but on Wednesday he scored a priceless goal as Real Madrid beat archrivals Barcelona 2-1 to win the Copa del Rey.
The Welshman, who was signed from Tottenham Hotspur in September 2013, produced a stunning solo strike to give Real their first trophy under Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Real's triumph condemned Barca to three successive defeats for the first time since January 2003 and crushed the Catalan team's final realistic chance of winning silverware this season.
It capped off a miserable seven days for Gerardo Martino's Barca, who were last week knocked out of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid before losing at Grenada in La Liga on Sunday.
While Real's big-money recruit flourished, Barca's star signing floundered.
Neymar arrived at the Nou Camp amid much fanfare last June, but the Brazilian spurned a glorious opportunity to level the match in the final moments when he fired a close-range effort against the post.
The first goal of a tense contest at Valencia's Mestalla Stadium arrived on 11 minutes after a rapid Real counter attack.
Bale set Angel di Maria racing free and the Argentine composed himself before firing a low shot through goalkeeper Pinto and into the corner of the net.
Pinto's attempts to save the shot had Barca fans pining for Victor Valdes, the team's longstanding goalkeeper who is unavailable after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last month.
Real had injury problems of their own with FIFA Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo missing through a hamstring injury, although his absence was barely felt as Los Blancos dominated the first half.
Barca struggled to match their vibrant opponents, with Lionel Messi cutting a particularly forlorn figure.
It looked as if Bale had doubled Real's lead midway through the second period, but the winger saw his close-range header chalked off. Moments later, Barca found an equalizer from the unlikeliest of sources.
Young defender Marc Bartra chose the perfect time to score a rare goal as he powered a firm header beyond Iker Casillas from Xavi's 68th-minute corner.
But Real, and Bale, were not to be denied.
With 85 minutes on the clock and extra-time looming large, Bale unleashed a punishing burst of pace to surge past Bartra near the halfway line.
Bale soared towards goal and, under pressure from the pursuing Bartra, coolly poked a shot under the advancing Pinto.
Barca should have leveled in the 90th minute, but Neymar could only find the post when presented with a clear sight of goal.
While Martino's men must now contemplate a somber end to the season, Real have it all to play for.
Ancelotti's team face Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinals, while they also sit just three points behind city rivals Atletico at the top of the La Liga table.
Man City struggle
Meanwhile in England, Manchester City lost ground in the Premier League title race after a 2-2 draw against bottom club Sunderland.
Brazil midfielder Fernandinho got City off to the perfect start with a goal inside the opening two minutes, but Sunderland hit back in the second half with two goals from young English striker Connor Wickham.
Sunderland looked to set to grab a much-needed three points, but City found a last-gasp leveler when goalkeeper Vito Mannone fumbled Samir Nasri's tame shot into the net with two minutes remaining.
The draws leaves City third in the Premier League table and hands the initiative to second-place Chelsea and leaders Liverpool in the battle for the championship.
Both Chelsea and Liverpool know that they will be crowned champions if they win each of their remaining four games, with the two set to meet in what is shaping up to be a title decider on April 27.
Everton suffered a setback in the battle for the fourth and final Champions League qualification spot after losing 3-2 at home to Crystal Palace.
Goals from Jason Puncheon and Scott Dann gave Palace a 2-0 lead before substitute Steven Naismith pulled a goal back for the hosts in the second half.
Striker Cameron Jerome restored Palace's two-goal lead, with the London club resisting an onslaught in the final moments after Kevin Mirallas pulled a goal back for Everton.
Defeat leaves Everton in fifth place, one point behind fourth-place Arsenal with four matches remaining.