Real Madrid match-winner Gareth Bale said he had nothing to prove to anybody after his hat trick in Wednesday's 3-1 victory over Kashima Antlers in the Club World Cup semfinal.
Madrid started slowly and might have been behind before Bale slotted expertly home for 1-0 just before half-time. The €101 million man then doubled their lead soon after the break when taking advantage of a mix-up in Kashima's back line to knock the ball to an empty net, before soon completing his hat trick by lashing across the keeper to the top corner.
Having missed Madrid's last two games with an ankle injury, Bale was withdrawn after an hour to keep him fit for Saturday's final against hosts Al Ain, who joined Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo as the others to score a hat trick in the current Club World Cup format.
The Wales international was asked on Spanish TV station Teledeporte after the final whistle if the hat trick was an answer to those who said he must take more responsibility at Madrid this season.
"Response?," Bale replied while appearing surprised at the question. "No. I just try to play football. I will always try give my best for the team. I don't have to do anything else. I just try to help them as much as I can."
Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois made two difficult saves with the game at 0-0, and Japanese side Kashima got one back late on when slack defending allowed centre-forward Shoma Doi in for a consolation goal. Bale said that getting through to the final had been Madrid's main objective, saying that all teams at the competition were motivated to show what they could do.
"The most important thing today was to get the victory," he said. "We knew it was going to be a hard game. Every team here is going to be really up for it. The most important thing was to get through to the final and now we will prepare for that."
Madrid coach Santi Solari is now regularly playing Bale on the left wing, a position which was Cristiano Ronaldo's for most of the former Tottenham player's first five seasons at the Bernabeu. Asked if he now felt more comfortable in what seemed his most natural position, Bale dodged the question by saying he was happy to play wherever selected.
"I have played a lot of my career on the left, on the right, up front," he said. "I am comfortable wherever the manager puts me, and I will give 100 percent for the team."
Asked at the post game news conference whether he could take credit for Bale's impact on the game, Solari said that the responsibility for performances always lay with the players, and pointed to Bale's past goals on huge occasions for Madrid including two victorious Champions League finals.
"Football depends on the players, all of us around them just try and help and be useful and push and organise the team," Solari said. "All of us, coaches, doctors, everyone at the club. But the ultimate responsibility is always down to the player. Gareth has given great joys to Madrid, in huge moments for the team, with goals, which is the most important part of the game. We expect these type of performances from him every time he plays, not just the goals, but his commitment to the team. Today it all went perfectly, but because he was committed before."
Solari said he was happy overall with how his team had played in the game.
"I am very happy, with Bale's three great goals, and for the solidity and consistency the players showed," he said. "Even at the start, when Kashima played with a lot of rhythm, we were able to control that and dominate the game. Then we scored and with the second goal we could manage the game."