Bale the toast of Tottenham as Inter sent packing
Inter Milan 1
Such was the high-speed, high-octane brilliance of Tottenham Hotspur last night that Rafa Benitez's Inter Milan resembled an unsteady priest climbing a mountain of sugar in flip-flops.
The European champions were blown away by the Tottenham tempest, who seized the high ground of Group A with goals from Rafael van der Vaart, Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko.
Spurs' performance was studded with fine individual displays. Such was Gareth Bale's excellence that experienced internationals Maicon, Walter Samuel and Lucio conducted a brief inquest full of hand waving into how to halt the Welshman. They never found the answer.
Such was Bale's constant humiliation of Inter's right-back that the home crowd at White Hart Lane even chanted "Taxi for Maicon''. Lucio even launched into a two-footed challenge that narrowly missed Bale.
Van der Vaart was outstanding until his suspect hamstring gave way and he failed to reappear for the second half. Luka Modric, a real intelligent footballer, gave one of his most heavyweight contributions for Spurs, scheming through the middle while Aaron Lennon also caught the eye on a momentous night for Harry Redknapp's side.
Redknapp had promised the fans another "wild ride'' and Spurs certainly started as they had finished at the San Siro, storming into Inter, sweeping down the flanks with Lennon and the unstoppable Bale, before seizing the lead through Van der Vaart with an attack straight through the middle.
This was thrilling stuff from Spurs, adventurous football worthy of the club's glory years. Modric, relishing the stage, had already tested Luca Castellazzi with a low shot after nine minutes.
After 18 minutes, the deft Croatian came calling again, dribbling towards the area, wrong-footing Sulley Muntari. Spurs fans sensed the unfolding of a golden opportunity, rising to their feet in expectation.
They watched transfixed as Modric dissected Inter's fabled backline with all the deftness of a skilled surgeon. Modric had read Van der Vaart's intentions, had seen how the Dutchman darted rapidly across the 18-yard line.
A superb reverse pass from Modric found Van der Vaart, who was unerring in his finish, the ball drilled past Castellazzi. The model of precision in propelling the ball home, Van der Vaart was certainly unrestrained in celebrating his sixth goal since a £8m move from Real Madrid.
Spurs fans joined in wildly.
The home supporters were loving the sight of their idols playing with a tempo that put such illustrious visitors on the back foot. Bale was terrific, all adrenalin-fuelled runs down the left flank, a fast-moving nightmare for Maicon.
Time after time, he raced past the Brazilian, lifting in cross after cross that brought emergency clearances from Castellazzi, Lucio and Samuel.
One Bale cross, screaming to be finished off, flew straight to Crouch, whose response was wretched, his shot almost heading back to Bale out wide. Spurs fans exhaled a collective sigh.
Yet still Redknapp's team poured forward, Lennon skipping past Samuel, who responded in no-nonsense fashion, living up to his nickname of 'The Wall'. Lennon fell to earth like a winged sparrow. Van der Vaart's free-kick deflected off the wall and over.
Overshadowed by Van der Vaart in the first half, Wesley Sneijder still delivered glimpses of his talent, gliding through the middle, requiring some smart defending from Spurs.
Samuel Eto'o was also a threat. When the Cameroon international bamboozled Alan Hutton and was fouled, Eto'o waved an imaginary yellow card, much to the consternation of the Spurs bench, particularly when referee Viktor Kassai brandished a real one to Hutton.
The half closed with Modric's foul on Eto'o bringing a promising free-kick position for Sneijder. Inter's No 10 bore the look of a man who felt the ball was destined for the top corner. Cudicini saved Spurs, arching back and pushing the free-kick over. Marvellous save, absolutely vital.
Spurs might have been psychologically damaged if they had conceded an equaliser on the cusp of half-time.
The 15-minute pause, allowing everyone involved to regain their breath, saw no diminishing of the intensity. Van der Vaart, feeling his hamstring, was replaced by Jermaine Jenas.
Jenas was immediately involved, sweeping the ball out to Lennon, whose cross was met powerfully by Crouch but Castellazzi tipped over.
No matter. Spurs were not to be denied.
Just after the hour-mark, Bale went on another charge past Maicon, past substitute Obiora Nwankwo, burrowing further into the hearts of covetous club chairman across Europe, before crossing. Crouch couldn't miss this one, ramming the ball home.
The mobile menace that is Eto'o was soon seen. With 10 minutes remaining, Eto'o outmanoeuvred Hutton and unleashed a shot that sped past Cudicini. Any nerves soon disappeared when Bale, having generously given Lucio a 10-yard start, had passed him in 20 yards before crossing for Pavlyuchenko to make it 3-1.
The game ended to chants of "ole'' from the Spurs fans as Bale taunted Inter. Sensational night. (© Daily Telegraph, London)