Bale’s wonder-strikes leave Tottenham fans breathless
A tale of two left feet – and three brilliant goals.
One, improbably enough, came from Samuel Umtiti, the 19-year-old left-back from Cameroon, whose stunning equaliser early in the second half looked to have given Lyon a slim advantage. The other two, more predictably, came from Gareth Bale, whose two free-kicks, one at the end of each half, were each faintly ridiculous in their audacity.
The last time these sides met, in a Cup Winners' Cup tie in 1967, the match disintegrated into war. Fans and players joined forces in a mass on-pitch brawl. Jimmy Greaves was punched in the face. Alan Mullery was sent off with blood dripping from his face.
No such controversy last night; not on that scale, at least. There was a penalty appeal after 15 minutes that brought the Lyon bench to its feet in outrage.
Bafetimbi Gomis knocked the ball past Jan Vertonghen; the Belgian defender stood his ground, the French international went to ground. There was definite contact, and Vertonghen looked a relieved man as referee Pedro Proenca waved play on.
Lyon had marginally the better of the opening exchanges, Gueida Fofana and Dejan Lovren enjoying early chances. Tottenham's most frequent threats were emerging from the right flank. Umtiti was booked after 20 minutes for a foul on Aaron Lennon, and his frequent forays forward forced midfielder Maxime Gonalons to cover for him.
But when Kyle Walker managed to evade Gonalons and cross to the byline, Bale squandered a superb chance, dragging his shot wide when given virtually an open net.
Bale had offered virtually no portent of his game-changing brilliance over the first 45 minutes, but with the game deadlocked as we approached the break, up stepped the Welshman to write another script.
Lining up a free-kick 35 yards out, he sent it high over the wall, but with such lavish dip that it bounced in front of a diving Remy Vercoutre, eluding his desperate grab and nestling in the bottom corner.
But how Lyon responded. Former Tottenham midfielder Steed Malbranque threw himself into the action, popping up on the right wing to deliver a sublime cross. William Gallas glanced the ball away, but only as far as Umtiti, making a late dash for glory at the corner of the penalty area.
Umtiti scarcely gave it a thought. He struck the ball on the bounce, sending it flying past Brad Friedel with such ferocity that it was still rising as it bulged the net. White Hart Lane was a vacuum of gasps.
The Tottenham fans groaned as attack after attack broke down; then, with just 10 seconds left on the clock, they roared as Bale stepped up and buried an almost identical free-kick to win the game. (© Daily Telegraph, London)