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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor