There are two conclusions to reach from last night's predictably panting World Cup qualifying match between Wales and Scotland at a saturated Cardiff City Stadium: Wales should henceforth be known, for the immediate future at least, as Bales, while Craig Levein, a dampened Scotland manager both in appearance and spirit, surely saw time run out on his natural lifespan in the role due to the galling manner in which those final foreboding minutes speared his doomed side.
Better to be lucky than good. Levein was unlucky on a number of counts last night. He probably picked the worthiest team available to him, but was ultimately shredded by one woeful decision in the second half when Steven Fletcher found himself on the end of a Charlie Adam cross to head Scotland into a 2-0 lead on 74 minutes. The goal should have stood, and would have snuffed out the home side's candle, but somehow a linesman contrived to wrongly raise his flag to claim the cross had gone out of play when it clearly had not. It left time and room for Bale's dinky little cameo.
Chris Coleman's Wales are not quite a one-man team, not with the eye-catching Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen in their midst, but they are not far off it. They had plenty of territorial advantage, but did little with it. Scotland goalkeeper Allan McGregor had only two meaningful moments of action in watching Bale harpoon his net twice in the closing 10 minutes.
Bale bailed Wales out, so to speak, but nobody should begrudge them their moment. Bale was fortunate to earn a softish penalty that led to the equaliser when he tangled with Shaun Maloney competing for a loose ball. The winning goal with three minutes left was different gravy, the type of finale that is reserved for football's upper crust as Bale somehow caressed the opposing net from 25 yards out with one casual swing of that cultured left foot.
It is just a pity Bale is Welsh. If he was Brazilian, he would be the type of player one would relish watching at the World Cup finals in 2014. Unless he signs up for a trip to Rio as a tourist, he will be watching it on television like the rest of us. Along with the Scots.
It must be said that Wales versus Scotland was an enjoyable, probing watch for what it represented on some random Friday night in autumn, but should only be viewed in splendid isolation as a British Cup tie. Neither of these teams possess enough substance to seriously trouble Belgium, Croatia or even Serbia for the play-off spots in Group A.
Levein will be aware of the facts that you do not get a third go at a tournament after two lots of failure. It is two strikes and you are out. He squandered his prime opportunity to lead to Scotland to a major tournament when he managed to finish third behind a mediocre Czech Republic side, let us not dwell on the night of 4-6-0 in Prague two years ago, in a favourable qualifying section for Euro 2012. This also appeared to be a potentially prosperous draw, but Scotland are almost bankrupt having come up short in Cardiff.
For a manager accused of being staid, Levein was bold with his selection and he looked destined for three points after James Morrison had pierced the Welsh net from Fletcher's cushioned header on 27 minutes. In analysing how Scotland departed the scene without even the consolation of a point, the pointed contribution of the improving Steven Fletcher and the return of Kris Commons will also be used as an instrument to torture Levein with.
Scotland could have handled a loss to Wales if they had turned draws with Serbia and Macedonia into wins in their opening two home fixtures last month. One wonders what contribution Fletcher and Commons would have made if Levein had healed festering wounds with the pair before the qualifying matches started? Scotland are left with only two points from three games, a parlous state that leaves Levein on his deathbed as national coach ahead of a chilling visit to group leaders Belgium in Brussels on Tuesday evening. It is not so much the next assignment as potentially the last rites. It is win or bust for Scotland in Brussels, that much is sure.
It is difficult to substantiate Levein's claim that progress has been made since he succeeded George Burley three years ago. At best, Scotland have stood still. No progress has been attained if you examine the hard facts. The performance of Wales justified their takings from the night despite odd decisions by a German match official and his assistants badly winding the visitors.
Levein looked in a state of disbelief afterwards. It is little wonder. Bale's winner was the type of blunt smack to the face that left many Scottish fans facing the realisation that the game is up for another few years. Scotland's last appearance at a major tournament harks backs to France '98. The malady lingers on.
At least Scotland will not wake up on Saturday morning feeling as depressed as the Republic of Ireland. Or maybe they will.
When the linesman's flag went up to signal Fletcher's goal was disallowed for no apparent reason, images of Graham Taylor as England manager and his appearance in that infamous fly-on-the-wall documentary The Impossible Job came flashing back as he vented his disgust. "The referee's got me the sack. Thank you ever so much for that," said Taylor to a linesman in the death throes of a 2-0 loss to the Netherlands in 1993. Levein did not need to say anything. Bale's winning goal left Scotland with little time to recover, but leaves the manager with no room for manoeuvre.
Belgium, full of bright young things and fresh from walloping Serbia 3-0 in Belgrade, possess the tools to render Scotland impotent. This no longer feels like a campaign, more a series of unfortunate events.