Another Gareth Bale wonder-show saw Tottenham Hotspur beat defending European champions Inter Milan, 3-1, at an electric White Hart Lane. Bale, the hat-trick hero of Tottenham’s 4-3 loss at the San Siro two weeks ago, turned into the provider on the return match, assisting on nearly identical goals to Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko in the second half to see Spurs go to the top of Group A in their inaugural season in the Champions League.
The story of the night was Bale, who was already emerging as one of the top players in Europe. The Welshman only enhanced his profile further as he put on a master class, terrorizing Inter right back Maicon, widely regarded as the top right back in the world. Inter simply could not handle Bale’s pace as he went on two long runs from midfield in the second half – similar to the runs he made in the San Siro – to put Spurs up 2-0 and then again at 3-1 to ice the game.
Rafael Van der Vaart – himself enhancing his profile since his move from Real Madrid – overcame a hamstring complaint picked up in their 2-0 loss to Manchester United over the weekend to start in the Tottenham attack, and the Dutchman gave Spurs the lead in the 18th minute. After a jinxing run from Luka Modric, the Croatian midfielder put the barely-onside Van der Vaart through. With only the goalkeeper to beat, Van der Vaart finished low with his left foot past Luca Castellazzi to give Spurs the early lead. The astute signing from Harry Redknapp has been a revelation, scoring six times since his move to England.
Spurs should have added to their lead, but Bale’s skinning of Maicon was wasted as Crouch volleyed the cross wide of the target.
Van der Vaart’s hamstring flared up again and he was turned into a spectator for Bale’s second half bewitching of the champions. In the 61st minute, Bale was let loose down the right flank, and his speed and accuracy was too much for Inter as his inch perfect cross found Crouch to tap in for a 2-0 lead.
It wouldn’t be Tottenham, however, if they didn’t make it interesting, and Samuel Eto’o was the culprit in the 80th minute. The Cameroon forward cut back inside the Spurs defense in the box and slammed a low right-footed effort into the corner of the net beyond Carlo Cudicini to give Inter a lifeline.
But Bale would have nothing of it. With Inter searching for an equalizer to stay at the top of Group A, Bale again crushed the champions with his pace and accuracy. He played himself around the scattered Inter defense, knocking the ball into space vacated by Inter’s rush for an equalizer. Bale sent a low cross into Pavlyuchenko’s path, and like Crouch, he tapped in to send White Hart Lane into a frenzy.
Manchester United also saw their Champions League campaign move closer to qualification for the knock-out round with a 3-0 win at Bursaspor, with goals from Darren Fletcher, Gabriel Obertan, and Bebe giving United three points. United, silent for most of the first half, looked vastly improved in the second frame with their passing game and made their Turkish opponents pay. After a United break in the 48th minute, Michael Carrick found Fletcher in the crowded Bursaspor box, and the Scot smashed his shot into the far corner.
The improved Obertan made it two in the 73rd minute after Park Ji-Sung played the Frenchman in. Obertan stepped inside the Bursaspor defense and crushed his effort into the roof of the net from 20 yards out, his first goal in a United shirt.
Matters were put to bed four minutes later after Paul Scholes deftly put Bebe in on goal. The surprise signing finished well into the corner of the net to put United within one point of moving on.
The game may have come at a price for United, however, as both Nani and Fletcher left with injuries ahead of United’s weekend match with Wolverhampton at Old Trafford.