Football: The moments of 2010

With 2010 drawing to a close, we asked our sport correspondents to cast their minds back over the last 12 months in their specialist fields to recount their moment of the year.

The Champions League group stages in recent years have become a tedious rumble of six games over three months so that - most of the time - the two biggest clubs in each group can qualify for the next round. But this season Gareth Bale has treated the Champions League group stages as if he were playing for Wales in a World Cup semi-final.

My moment of the year, for sheer, rip-roaring, up-and-at-them excitement is Bale's performance for Tottenham Hotspur against Internazionale in the home game at White Hart Lane on 2 November. I could have picked the second half of the game at San Siro when, after all, he scored a hat-trick in a 4-3 defeat were it not for the fact that there was something mesmerising about his performance in north London.

Every great performance requires talent, self-belief and determination - of which Bale had all. Great performances are also measured by the stature of the opponent who is overcome and in the Inter full-back Maicon there was no greater test for Bale. But this was not a full-back v winger duel in the tradition of Ashley Cole's against Cristiano Ronaldo at Euro 2004 or the World Cup two years later. In that case both gave as good as they got.

In Maicon's case the Brazilian, who had been voted in Uefa's Champions League team of the previous season, was taken apart piece-by-piece by Bale. And the more Bale picked the ball up and ran at him the worse it got for Maicon and the more compelling it became for those of us in the stadium.

Bale is a softly-spoken, shy Welshman who, when photographed this month on the Spurs' players Christmas night out, tried to hide behind one of his team-mates. That night against Inter, however, he showed his cruel, ruthless streak. It was not enough to go past Maicon once or twice, rather Bale seemed determined to pound him until you could imagine a towel being flung onto the pitch by Inter's staff.

Bale can run as quickly with the ball as most of his peers can run without it and although it is well within capabilities to get beyond a full-back he is also able to hit a cross on the run with just a yard of space. Either way he is a nightmare to play against. Two weeks earlier he had scored a hat-trick while supposedly under Maicon's guard at San Siro yet the White Hart Lane experience was even more humiliating.

Inter had been given fair warning about the danger of Bale but they seemed powerless to do anything about it. Lucio tried to remove him from the game with a crude two-footed lunge three minutes after extra-time but Bale saw it coming and got out the way. Later, on his way to making the third goal for Roman Pavlyuchenko, Bale left Lucio as motionless as the pre-match traffic on Tottenham High Road.

By the second half, the Spurs fans had hit upon a chant that will adorn t-shirts for years to come. "Taxi for Maicon" was a beauty because it encapsulated the moment perfectly. The crowd, while revelling in Bale's performance, also picked up on Maicon's embarrassment at his own helplessness. He wanted to be anywhere but on the right side of Inter's defence. But there was no figurative taxi. Rafael Benitez left him on to take his punishment.

Bale did not score that night but the way in which he laid on goals for Peter Crouch and Pavlyuchenko was thrilling. Whether it was Maicon - or in the case of the second goal, the substitute Obiora Nwankwo - whom he beat there was a certainty about the outcome that made him so exciting to watch.

For the third goal he picked up the ball close to the dugouts behind at White Hart Lane is the press box. For a moment as he left Lucio behind him those of us in the press benches got a brief up-close view of the power and pace of Bale in full flow with the roar of White Hart Lane urging him on.

For the England team, and English football in general, 2010 has not been a great year. For Bale it has been the opposite. Since breaking into the Spurs team in January his upward trajectory has been astonishing. Good performances have led to better performances and then, as in the case of Inter, he has put on some great performances.

It will not always be so. As Wayne Rooney discovered in 2010, form is that most elusive of qualities for elite footballers. So too Bale will find that it does not always come to him as easily as it did in his breakthrough year. One must resist the temptation to remark that it is a pity Bale is not English because he is a proud Welshman and will be a major concern for England in March at the Millennium Stadium. In a bad year he has been a shining light.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'