Dazzling Bale bursts past Inter to shoot hot Spurs to the top
Tottenham Hotspur 3 Internazionale 1
From now on when the great Brazil right-back Maicon shuts his eyes and imagines his worst nightmare he will see the figure of Gareth Bale disappearing away from him up the left wing. But he can console himself that when Bale plays like he did last night there is not a full-back in the world who can live with this 21-year-old phenomenon.
This was an epic Champions League night for Tottenham Hotspur because when you have beaten the reigning European champions at home then anything feels possible. For Bale it almost certainly is. His signature was all over this victory for Spurs. It was, quite simply, the most exhilarating performance from a young player in recent memory, even by the standards of his hat-trick at San Siro two weeks ago.
Bale demolished arguably the world's greatest right-back in a contest that was so one-sided that, had it been a boxing match, the referee would have stopped in within the first 10 minutes to prevent Maicon taking further punishment. It got so bad that at times you actually felt sorry for the Brazilian although there was something deliciously apposite about the home fans' chant of "Taxi for Maicon".
Time and again Bale dropped a shoulder and powered past Maicon or whichever unfortunate Inter defender was marking him. The second and third Spurs goals were created by him blasting down the left wing and crossing immaculately for first Peter Crouch and then Roman Pavlyuchenko to score. Inter knew all about Bale but they were powerless to stop him.
This was Bale's night but it was also a night when Harry Redknapp's manifesto of attacking, open football was given its most powerful vindication. The Spurs manager has shaped and created a team that, at their best, are thrilling to watch. They are top of Group A and they have given the drab procession of the Champions League group stages a sense of excitement and risk they have lacked in recent years.
Redknapp was right when he said that, for all Bale's heroics, this was a performance that demonstrated that this team had found their feet among the elite of European football. Luka Modric was outstanding. Even though he played for just one half, Rafael van der Vaart eclipsed his fellow Dutchman Wesley Sneijder. The English crop of Tom Huddlestone, Aaron Lennon and, as a second-half substitute, Jermaine Jenas looked accomplished.
To borrow a phrase from the Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, Redknapp's Spurs team do not play with the handbrake on. It was obvious even in his Monday press briefing that Redknapp had elected long ago to throw everything at Internazionale and see if he could smash the front door down rather than engage in the kind of tactical chess that Rafael Benitez favours.
Redknapp's players did not let him down. Even after Van der Vaart had been substituted at half-time having scored the first goal they came out with renewed ambition to close the game out. Only in the nine minutes between the goal from Samuel Eto'o on 80 minutes and Spurs' third from Pavlyuchenko did you feel that they might have run out of steam and could just surrender their lead.
Otherwise they conspired to make the team that tamed Barcelona last season look exceedingly ordinary at times. Inter were missing key players like their goalkeeper Julio Cesar, Esteban Cambiasso and Dejan Stankovic but equally Spurs could point to the absence of Jermain Defoe, Ledley King, Michael Dawson and Heurelho Gomes. Yet there was only one team who showed the appetite to win this game.
Redknapp recounted afterwards how Luis Figo, an ambassador for Inter who sits on their bench, had approached him after the game to express his admiration for Bale's performance. But Inter were not always quite so admiring, certainly not on 48 minutes when their formidable Brazilian defender Lucio came in with a two-footed lunge at the Welsh winger which he only just spotted in time to get out of the way.
That was an ugly moment and if Lucio had connected we might have been talking about one of the most despicable tackles of the season. As it turned out, Bale had his revenge, accelerating away for the third goal to sprint down the wing and cross for Pavlyuchenko while the old Brazilian was left to look all of his 32 years.
Spurs' first goal was the one that Bale did not have a hand in. That time it was Modric whose ingenuity opened Inter up on 18 minutes. He hustled past Sulley Muntari in the centre of midfield and then slipped an angled ball past Lucio for Van der Vaart to run onto and clip past goalkeeper Luca Castellazzi.
Sneijder only really entered the fray two minutes before the break when a debatable free-kick afforded him an opportunity from the edge of the area. He bent his shot just under the bar although not quite far enough into the corner to prevent Carlo Cudicini from making an excellent save which proved crucial.
Still a goal up in the second half, there were some magnificent periods of play from Spurs before and after the hour mark when Crouch scored their second goal. Bale turned the left wing into Maicon's very own trail of tears, running from deep onto Modric's pass and blasting past the substitute Obiora Nwankwo. His cross was perfectly placed inches beyond the gloves of Castellazzi and Crouch, who had missed badly in the first half from a Bale cross, made no mistake.
The introduction of Diego Milito gave Benitez's team greater threat. The former Liverpool manager had reason to feel badly let down by the performances of Sneijder, Goran Pandev and even Eto'o. The man from Cameroon did spark into life for his team's only goal, creating space on the left and getting away from Alan Hutton to shoot past Cudicini.
Until Pavlyuchenko, on for Crouch, scored Spurs' third there was a jittery feel to White Hart Lane. Milito even hit the bar in the closing stages with the score at 3-1 but by then the stadium had a joyous feel to it. Spurs had not just made it into the Champions League but they were thriving in the competition. They stayed to the very end to see the reigning champions beaten and, of course, to hail Bale.
Results Werder Bremen 2-2 Tottenham, FC Twente 2-2 Inter; Tottenham 4-1 FC Twente, Inter 4-0 Werder Bremen; Inter 4-3 Tottenham, FC Twente 1-1 Werder Bremen, Tottenham 3-1 Inter, Werder Bremen 0-2 FC Twente.
Tottenham's remaining fixtures 24 November Werder Bremen (h); 7 December FC Twente (a)
Werder Bremen 0-2 FC Twente
Nacer Chadli and Luuk de Jong scored the goals as the Dutch champions sealed their first victory in this season's group stage. Torsten Frings was sent off for Bremen and will miss the game at Spurs.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-1-1): Cudicini; Hutton, Gallas, Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon (Palacios, 84), Modric, Huddlestone, Bale; Van der Vaart (Jenas, h-t); Crouch (Pavlyuchenko, 75). Substitutes not used Pletikosa (gk), Keane, Bassong, Kranjcar.
Internazionale (4-2-3-1): Castellazi; Maicon, Lucio, Samuel, Chivu; Zanetti, Muntari (Nwankwo, 53); Biabiany (Coutinho, 64), Sneijder, Pandev (Milito, 71); Eto'o. Substitutes not used Orlandoni (gk), Cordoba, Materazzi, Santon.
Referee V Kassai (Hungary).
Man of the match Bale.
Match rating 9/10.
Man for man marking
Great display. Saved Sneijder free-kick superbly. 8/10
Harshly booked for foul on Eto'o. Good on overlap. 7
Marshalled back four to show why he was signed. 8
Classy display. Kept danger man Eto'o in check. 8
Won battle with Biabiany and pushed forward a lot. 7
Much more like old self. His speed was a menace. 8
Glorious run set up Van der Vaart's opening goal. 8
Commanding display. His distribution was superb. 8
Quite brilliant. Skinned Maicon at will. 9
Rafael van der Vaart
Took goal superbly. Heart of team. Subbed at half-time. 8
Missed a great chance but made amends with goal. 7
Subs Jenas 7, Pavlyuchenko 8, Palacios 6.
Deputised for Julio Cesar. Great save to deny Crouch. 7
Powerless against Bale's pace. Will have nightmares. 4
Struggled. The Brazilian found Crouch a handful. 5
Made to look ordinary. Had a cynical hack at Lennon. 5
Rugged defender used all his experience against Lennon. 6
Kept the Inter midfield tight but could not turn the tide. 6
Beaten by Modric in the build-up to Spurs' first goal. 5
Ran into too many dead ends. Insipid on right flank. 5
Quiet by his standards, made pass for Eto'o's goal. 7
Dogged display on the left but made little impact . 6
Fizzed early shot just wide. Scored with clinical finish. 7
Subs Nwankwo 5, Coutinho 6, Milito 6.
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