Despite the Welshman’s sparkling first-half display, Zinedine Zidane’s side were unable to hold on to their advantage and nearly risked defeat by the end.
Real Madrid could only draw 2-2 against Legia Warsaw in the Champions League on Wednesday, surrendering a two-goal lead secured by Gareth Bale’s opening-minute blockbuster.
The Welshman had got on the scoresheet in the 57th second with Madrid’s fastest goal in the Champions League, netting a goal of the season contender from a volley.
Bale then turned provider for Karim Benzema to double the visitors lead, but Legia – playing in an empty stadium – came back strongly in the second half to peg Zinedine Zidane’s men back before taking their own lead.
Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe halved the deficit with a wonder strike of his own before the break as Miroslav Radovic equalised on the hour mark, leaving Thibault Moulin to celebrate what he must have thought was Legia’s winner in the 83rd minute.
But it was not to be, as Mateo Kovacic equalised two minutes later to ensure a thrilling encounter with the spoils shared.
The draw means Madrid are now two points behind Group F leaders Borussia Dortmund and five ahead of Sporting CP. Meanwhile, Legia can no longer progress, but still harbour hope of a Europa League place.
Bale needed little time to make his mark, capitalising after Legia failed to clear their lines by lashing a wondrous volley into the top-right corner.
Madrid unsurprisingly continued to dictate proceedings and Raphael Varane went agonisingly close to making it 2-0 as his header was cleared off the line before Benzema drew a fine save from Arkadiusz Malarz.
Malarz was called into action again when Bale’s header from a near-post corner forced the Legia goalkeeper to produce an excellent finger-tip stop, with Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo unable to force home the rebound.
Bale then had Malarz scrambling again with a vicious drive from the edge of the area that dipped just over the crossbar.
But the second goal finally arrived in the 35th minute, with Bale involved again as he latched onto Kovacic’s clever pass and laid the ball off for Benzema to slot into the bottom-right corner.
However, the two-goal advantage was halved just five minutes later, Odjidja-Ofoe weaving his way to the edge of the area and curling a left-footed strike beyond Keylor Navas.
A bright start to the second half saw a Bale near-post volley kept out by Malarz and Ronaldo fire into the side-netting, with Legia midfielder Guilherme then bending a free-kick narrowly off target at the other end.
But Radovic did make Madrid pay for not extending their lead, finding the net with a low drive from just outside the box after being afforded too much space by the visitors’ defence.
Benezma went close to restoring Madrid’s advantage as he had an effort deflected narrowly wide by Adam Hlousek before Ronaldo sent a header past the right-hand post.
Ronaldo looked in the mood to settle matters, testing Malarz with a free-kick and looping a header over, but instead it was Moulin who seemed to have clinched an unbelievable result by meeting Aleksandar Prijovic’s lay-off with a superb strike with seven minutes left.
There was a final twist in the tale, though, and it came as Kovacic met Dani Carvajal’s flick with a confident angled finish, with the woodwork denying Madrid a last-gasp win when Lucas Vazquez rattled the bar.