James Lawton: Devastating threat of Welsh winger completes Spurs' exhilarating cycle
Wednesday 03 November 2010
Wherever the old warring, scuffling Harry Redknapp takes Spurs this or any other season, he can always savour the impact of his ferocious young Welshman Gareth Bale – and the heady moments last night when his team cut through the champions of Europe as though they were no more than half a pound of extremely moist butter.
Internazionale are a lot more than that, of course, and if Rafa Benitez wants to tinker with some of the methods of his predecessor, Jose Mourinho, he has reason enough to believe he can rely on competitive character of the highest quality.
No team containing the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Javier Zanetti and Samuel Eto'o are going to sell themselves cheaply against a side they tore apart for 45 minutes just two weeks ago, and this was the certainty which helped underline the brilliance that took us back to the days when goals of exceptional quality were routine fare at White Hart Lane.
The first came in the 18th minute, and ruined Benitez's assumption that his team merely had to keep hold of the concentration that went missing in the second half at San Siro to cruise into the sudden-death phase of the defence of Mourinho's doggedly won title.
Luka Modric's sleight of foot and the ice-cold finish of Rafael van der Vaart plunged the softly-softly, hog-the-ball Internazionale policy into a sudden crisis of confidence.
It was a doubt that at times Bale, the most devastating threat along the Tottenham left since the days of the legendary Cliff Jones, threatened to turn into an unshakeable death sentence. Soon enough his warnings, which consisted of a series of brutal attacks on the great Brazilian Maicon's belief that his principal role is to create his own tide of damage, delivered a moment of consummated menace.
Spurs came out after half-time with a superb belief in their ability to hold on to the advantage of that exquisite early strike, and with Van der Vaart off the field, hindered again by a troublesome hamstring, it fell to Bale to redouble his efforts. He did it with more persecution of Maicon and a perfect cross to Peter Crouch. He had provided the England forward with a similar opportunity in the first half but saw only a nervy jab wide. This time Crouch slid the ball home and Tottenham were back in the best of their days.
It was a joyous celebration – but it was also premature, a fact which Eto'o underlined with a goal of superb, quick precision which gave Carlo Cudicini not a sliver of a chance. Internazionale were alive again with some measured passing, Sneijder was probing and threatening with almost every forward move, but if Benitez had reason to believe he might rescue something from the night, it was a calculation that excluded the most vital element of all.
Inevitably, it was Bale, running like a young stag, shrugging off challengers, covering the ground as though every inch of it belonged to him. He did that of course in Milan with his extraordinary hat-trick, but that was a gesture stolen from a losing fate. This came at the heart of a great victory, one which we have to presume will entirely change the way we look at Spurs and, more vitally, the way they look at themselves.
It cannot be stressed enough at this early point of Bale's emergence as one of the most dominant players in England that he is so much more than a mere breaker of opposition spirit by the force of his game. There is also the wonderful sense of space and time. The pass he rolled into the path of Roman Pavlyuchenko, after another rampage along the flank, could not have been calculated any more finely if he had been sitting in front of a computer. He wasn't though, was he – he was taking hold of the biggest game of his life and he was shaping it to every one of his and his team's needs.
Internazionale were finished now, hammered against the ropes by a superior force – and will.
When you thought about it for a moment, the pattern was plain enough. Inter devastated Spurs in the first half at San Siro. They pulled every string but there was also an element of self-destruction as Redknapp's side accepted their lower rung in the football hierarchy. In the second half the visitors realised that they had to play, that all they could lose were their chains and their inferiority complex,
Last night they looked as if they were ready to run at any opposition. It is one of the bravest instincts in football in this age of iron defence and packed midfields. You need to have your nerve at optimum levels. It also helps if you happen to have the currently unique inspiration of someone called Gareth Bale.
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