Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Inter Milan 4 Tottenham 3: Bale's blitz is in vain as incredible hat-trick can't save Spurs


By MARTIN SAMUEL Chief Sports Writer in Milan

Portent of doom: Javier Zanetti slots the ball past the despairing lunge of William Gallas and the outstretched arm of Heurelho Gomes in the second minute

First the good news. Cracking goals by Gareth Bale. Outstanding. Exactly what we had been hoping to see, in fact. Of all Tottenham's players, he was the one Harry Redknapp was looking to in the San Siro, and he did not disappoint.

A pity about the other 10, really. A pity that what Bale did was rendered largely irrelevant. The scoreline does not flatter Bale, but it flatters Tottenham.

This game was over after 13 minutes and seven seconds when Inter Milan's third goal went in and, when Samuel Eto'o added a fourth before half-time, Tottenham's second-half duty was to avoid becoming the first Premier League team to lose a Champions League match by a five-goal margin.

So, in that respect, mission accomplished. This was, in the circumstances, about as good as it could get considering that four goals down and reduced to 10 men, with goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes sent off, Tottenham were facing abject humiliation.

Early bath: Tottenham goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes (L) sees red less than ten minutes into the game after giving away a penalty

The reality is, however, that Inter stopped scoring mainly because it was no longer necessary. Their lack of ambition produced startling results, not least because, in Bale, the London club have a player who possesses world class potential.

So, amid the celebrations, a sobering thought. Hat-tricks in the San Siro are not forgotten in a hurry. What if a leading European club makes it known to Bale this summer that the next time he scores one, they can ensure it is not wasted on mere face saving?

Bale has signed a five-year contract, but so had Cristiano Ronaldo when he developed an overpowering yearning for Real Madrid. And Tottenham do not have the best record for keeping players.

Net play: Samuel Eto'o drills his penalty past substitute 'keeper Carlo Cudicini for Inter's second

Put it like this: Inter Milan's left back is Cristian Chivu. After tonight, owner Massimo Moratti might see Bale as something of an upgrade. At least Bale's hat-trick left Spurs supporters happy.

They deserved to smile, at least. Some of the old stagers of the Champions League can become almost blase about visits to Milan, but not Tottenham.

This was the game that said the club had arrived, that they were no longer just knocking on the door of the elite. They turned out in force, loved every minute, and to see the banks of empty seats in the home end made one root for these underdogs even more.

Smiles better: Eto'o enjoys his goal as bemused Spurs boss Harry Redknapp looks for answers

What awaited, however, was a brutal reminder of how far Spurs still have to go. One could only sympathise with Redknapp for the injuries that have ravaged his side.

He has a lot invested in this as well, not least when he insists Tottenham are two players away from becoming title-winners. They need greater strength at the back.

This was a makeshift defence, undone spectacularly by Inter, but that is no excuse.
With Wilson Palacios on the bench, Tottenham's midfield looked fragile but, even so, the ease with which Inter carved them apart was shocking.

Three and easy: Dejan Stankovic celebrates with Maicon after putting Inter three goals to the good

Just a minute and eight seconds had elapsed when Coutinho played the ball inside to Eto'o, who delivered the killer pass to Javier Zanetti, pushing into a ridiculous amount of space on the left.

His finish was precise and Inter never looked back. This will be Gomes's last game in the Champions League for several weeks and his long-term Tottenham future may no longer be guaranteed, either, after the blunder that as good as ended Tottenham's hopes of recovery.

Jonathan Biabiany, a young French forward encouraged by Inter coach Rafael Benitez (right), got inside Benoit Assou-Ekotto on the right, and advanced on goal before being sent skywards by a rushed, rash challenge from Gomes.

Head case: Rafa Benitez congratulates Eto'o after his second put Inter 4-0 ahead before the break

Referee Damir Skomina consulted an additional official behind the goal and dismissed Gomes. That ended Luka Modric's night, too, sacrificed to make way for Carlo Cudicini, whose first job was to retrieve the ball from his net, having been bamboozled by Eto'o from the spot. What was the worst that could happen? Soon we found out.

Maicon fed Dejan Stankovic, who played a fabulous one-two with Eto'o and slapped a low shot past Cudicini from just inside the area. The agony continued.

In the 35th minute, Coutinho slipped the ball into Eto'o and William Gallas let the striker go. He needed no further invitation to make it 4-0. Be carefulwhat you wish for was the lesson at half-time.

First up: Brilliant Bale weaves his way through the Inter defence to strike his first of the evening

Tottenham supporters had spent so many years yearning for the platform of the Champions League, dreaming of a fixture in Milan's magnificent San Siro stadium, that what had unfolded represented heartbreak and humiliation on an epic scale.

By the end, the moral of the story was another cliche: you can't keep a good man down. Bale became the star of a truly remarkable second half and the scorer of the best hat-trick you are likely to see in European competition this year.

The first was quite stunning as he collected the ball inside his own half, ran 50 yards down the left, checked inside Zanetti, burst into the penalty area and, as Walter Samuel came across in a desperate attempt to cover, pow.

At the double: Bale's second was another marvellous finish to beat Julio Cesar

The second wasn't much different, Bale collecting the ball 15 yards inside the Inter half, resisting Zanetti and finishing sweetly across goalkeeper Julio Cesar once more.

And then there was the third, in injury time, set up by Aaron Lennon on the edge of the penalty area - to the left obviously - with finishing as smart as that of any striker, even the remarkable Eto'o.

For a brief moment, those perched high behind Inter's goal were dreaming the impossible dream, but time was against Tottenham.

Instead, they will have to content themselves that the Italians will come to White Hart Lane in two weeks' time, more than a little wary of the man on Tottenham's left, and with Rafael van der Vaart back and Modric allowed a full 90 minutes, who knows.

source: dailymail

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