It has taken Tottenham Hotspur decades of struggle and mediocrity to earn their place in the elite of European football, and last night it took them 15 mad minutes to all but ensure that come the return leg at White Hart Lane next Wednesday they will be out of the Champions League.
It had started to go wrong even before Peter Crouch was dismissed in the 16th minute of the game but it will no doubt be the England international who takes the rap for this humiliation. He certainly did not need to lunge into Sergio Ramos for his first booking and the same goes for the sweeping challenge on Real Madrid's Brazilian defender Marcelo for his second.
But those who rush to judge should remember that this was the player who scored the goal against Manchester City 11 months ago that began the whole Champions League adventure. This red card will stay with Crouch for the rest of his life.
As a footballer he treasures nights like these in Europe and he has been short-changed in his career enough times by managers such as Rafael Benitez and Fabio Capello that he never takes playing in the big games for granted. But the memory of this one will hurt. As for Spurs, they are already talking about the Champions League in the past tense.
That was certainly Harry Redknapp's attitude having seen his side go in at half-time one goal behind, the first of Emmanuel Adebayor's two, and then gradually fall apart in the second half. It was painful enough for Spurs that Adebayor scored another – his tenth career goal against the club – but the third and fourth from Angel di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo really twisted the knife. "Mission impossible," was how Jose Mourinho described Spurs playing with 10 men. And he was trying to be kind.
To his credit, Redknapp did not heap all the blame on Crouch. He could have publicly bawled out his striker in the aftermath of the game but he held back. Redknapp knows that Crouch has come good for him enough times in the past. If anything, the Spurs manager sounded more cheesed off with Aaron Lennon, who pulled out of the game literally seconds before the teams were due on the pitch.
The winger had been named on the official Uefa team-sheet but knowing that Lennon had been suffering from flu all week, Redknapp said that he caught the player's eye in the dressing room and realised immediately that something was not right. "He [Lennon] came in and I could tell," Redknapp said. "He had that look on his face that he didn't feel he was fit to play. So I asked him, 'Are you OK?' And he said 'I don't feel I have any strength or any energy, I don't feel I can run'. So I had to pull him out."
It threw Spurs' immediate plans into chaos. Gareth Bale went out to the right wing – a move that must have been done to counter the threat of Marcelo and did not work at all. Jermaine Jenas came on in Lennon's place but in the centre of midfield. Luka Modric was out on the left. It was a mess and even against a mediocre Premier League side it would have been suspect. Against Real Madrid it was a recipe for disaster.
Real went after Spurs from the start. This was a classic Mourinho all-out, full-court press and it worked. Ronaldo had already had two shots at goal within the first three minutes. In the fifth minute, Mesut Özil sent a corner over from the right wing – Adebayor got away from Jenas and stooped down to head the ball through the crowd.
It had started badly for Spurs. It was about to get a hell of a lot worse. Crouch had already put a header wide when, on eight minutes, he was booked for catching Sergio Ramos late. Crouch was pumped up and, unusually for him, he was in a mood that could best be described as reckless. Unfortunately the German referee, Felix Brych, was only too keen to start writing names in his book.
Something made Crouch lunge in wildly on Marcelo on 16 minutes and give referee Brych an easy decision. It was noticeable that as he trudged off Mourinho pulled aside Adebayor, who had also been booked by then, and seemed to warn him of the pitfalls of letting his emotions get the better of him.
"It was an uphill task, an impossible task," Redknapp said later. "First half, I thought we did fantastic with 10 men." They could have been eviscerated but they re-organised. Bale went out to the left wing and finally got going in the latter stages of the half. He drew a foul from Pepe that earned the Portuguese defender a booking that rules him out of the second leg.
Spurs could not complain – they got lucky too. Michael Dawson charged down a shot from Di Maria and the ball looked to have struck his hand. Mourinho is not the kind of manager to pass up an advantage and he certainly had one last night. His team came out after half-time with the same kind of attacking intent. Xabi Alonso had taken control of the game and Ronaldo always looked dangerous.
Later, Mourinho refused to say that the tie was over. "I know the mentality of the English teams and the English fans," he said. "I know what they are like." But he was just being polite. He was more exercised at the suggestion that Pepe had intentionally taken a yellow card in order to spend his suspension at White Hart Lane.
Against an increasingly demoralised Spurs side, Adebayor scored a second on 56 minutes. This time it was a short corner from Ronaldo on the left to Marcelo in an advanced position. William Gallas was nowhere as Adebayor beat the Spurs goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes with his header.
Di Maria's goal was the best of the lot. He ran down the right channel making Benoît Assou-Ekotto back up all the way before crashing a shot into the far corner. Ronaldo added the fourth from the same side after a cross from Kaka, on as a substitute. Gomes should have done better. But by then it was incidental. This Champions League adventure has surely finished for Spurs.
Man of the match Adebayor.
Referee F Brych (Germany).
Match rating 6/10.