Bale scored with his first touch after coming on as a substitute in the 81st minute as Real Madrid came from behind to beat Emirates club Al Jazira 2-1 in Wednesday’s semifinal.
Madrid will try to win its third world title in four seasons when its faces South American champion Gremio of Brazil on Saturday.
The match had two goals disallowed by video review, one for each team. There was confusion when Madrid’s first-half goal was ruled out by a decision that took a few minutes before the Video Assistant Referee became involved.
Madrid struggled early and allowed the local league winners to open the scoring with a goal by Brazilian forward Romarinho just before halftime.
But Cristiano Ronaldo equalized early in the second half and Bale netted the winner less than a minute after replacing Karim Benzema.
The Wales forward, coming off a series of injuries, scored with a low left-foot touch from the center of the area after a pass by forward Lucas Vazquez, who had also come off the bench.
“It was great to be able to score, but the most important thing was the victory,” said Bale, adding that he’s still not at 100 percent. “It’s been a long wait, I’ve had to be patient.”
He has played only 11 matches with Madrid this season because of lingering muscle problems.
“Bale is all about scoring goals,” Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez said. “He is a fantastic player. He scored a goal that means a lot to us. It’s a shame that he has been injured, because he is very important for the team.”
European clubs have made it to the Club World Cup final every time since the competition’s new format started in 2005, winning nine out of the last 10 titles.
Madrid, which fielded its top players, was in control from the start but made a series of mistakes in front of goal and couldn’t capitalize on its numerous chances. Al Jazira goalkeeper Ali Khaseif made several difficult saves before being substituted with an apparent injury early in the second half.
Madrid appeared to have opened the scoring with a header by midfielder Casemiro in the 30th minute. Brazilian referee Sandro Meira Ricci initially disallowed the goal, then said it counted and carried the ball back toward the center circle for the restart, only to eventually rule it out again after requesting a video review. He signaled that his final decision, made nearly three minutes after the goal, was based on Benzema being offside.
“The issue of video review is not something that is up to me to decide, but I think football is better off without it,” Bale said.
Madrid had already seen a goal by Benzema disallowed about 10 minutes earlier, after the referee signaled a foul by Ronaldo on a defender.
The hosts took advantage of Madrid’s early struggles and opened the scoring in a counterattack just before halftime. Madrid defenders were unable to clear a ball near midfield, and allowed Romarinho to enter the area and send a low shot into the far corner.
The UAE team had the chance to take a shock 2-0 lead early in the second half after another mistake by Madrid’s defense, which allowed two Al Jazira players to break into the area with only goalkeeper Keylor Navas to beat. Mbark Boussoufa scored, but a video review later showed that he was just offside when he received the pass from his teammate.
Madrid began to rally a few minutes later, with Ronaldo controlling a pass from Luka Modric inside the area before sending a low shot into the far corner for his sixth goal in the Club World Cup, surpassing Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, who each have five.
Benzema had twice hit the post as Madrid pressed forward after conceding before halftime.