Tottenham 3-1 Inter: Revisiting Gareth Bale's breakout Champions League night

Sean Walsh
Bale announced himself to the world in 2010
Bale announced himself to the world in 2010 / Clive Rose/GettyImages
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Gareth Bale announced his retirement from football on Monday, bringing an end to one of British football's most decorated careers.

While the Welshman would win bucketloads of titles at Real Madrid, he rose to global fame with Tottenham. Before becoming Spurs' clutch saviour in his final year in north London, he was one of the world's most electric wingers.

His emergence came in 2010 when he scored a hat-trick in a 4-3 loss to Inter at San Siro. A couple of weeks later, Bale tore them apart on home soil.

I rewatched that game to check if his performance was really all that. Read on below for a 90min-style match report and player ratings as well as a deep-dive into a famous night at the old White Hart Lane...


Match report

Tottenham are one win away from securing their passage to the Champions League knockout stages after beating holders Inter 3-1 at White Hart Lane.

After just falling short of an improbable comeback at San Siro a fortnight ago, Spurs put the European champions to the sword back in north London, with Gareth Bale again the standout performer for the Lilywhites.

Though Spurs largely pinned Inter back in the opening five minutes, the first half-sight of goal came when Samuel Eto'o managed to create a yard of separation with Younes Kaboul, but his speculative 20-yard effort sailed just wide.

That early scare seemed to kick Tottenham into gear, with Bale almost immediately pirouetting away from Maicon from the resulting goal kick and beginning the Brazilian's evening of torment.

Luka Modric's first foray into the final third saw him skip past Lucio - another Brazilian defender in for a rough evening - and drag a shot just to the left of backup goalkeeper Luca Castellazzi, with the Italian saving with relative ease.

Twice in the space of the next two minutes, Bale sidestepped Maicon and made a dart down the left flank, though Inter were just about able to clear his deliveries.

Tottenham took a deserved lead on 18 minutes. Benoit Assou-Ekotto's underlapping run inside Bale helped free Modric to dart forward again, and he in turn teed up Rafael van der Vaart to fire in at the near post.

Peter Crouch somehow didn't add a second when Bale managed to simply skip round Maicon and pick out the lanky striker, whose volley bounced narrowly wide of the post.

Inter's frustrations became clear when Javier Zanetti lashed a shot over from all of 30 yards, though Jonathan Biabiany nearly raced in behind to meet a clever ball from Sulley Muntari in the next move. Carlo Cudicini was quick off his line to clear.

The former Chelsea goalkeeper was called into action on the verge of half-time when he pushed aside a free-kick from Wesley Sneijder.

Van der Vaart was forced off at half-time and replaced by Jermaine Jenas as Spurs switched to a 4-5-1 in the second period.

The hosts nearly doubled the lead when Castellazzi flapped at an in-swinging free-kick, and Bale's audacious overhead kick from the edge of the box mercilessly dropped past the outside of the post.

A quick Spurs breakaway saw Alan Hutton place a cross on the forehead of Crouch, with Castellazzi reaching up to tip it over.

Just after the hour mark, Tottenham had their second. Modric's quick turn in midfield released Bale on the break, and his low cross for Crouch evaded Castellazzi, allowing the gangly target man to tap in at the far post.

The ball was in the Inter net for a third time soon afterwards, with Bale once more rounding Maicon and setting up Crouch, but the winger was adjudged to have dribbled the ball out of play and the goal was chalked off.

Tottenham Hotspur's English striker Pete
Bale and Crouch combined for the second / GLYN KIRK/GettyImages

After 70 minutes, Rafa Benitez finally introduced Diego Milito, who immediately caused Spurs panic with a driven cross towards the back-post. Fortunately for the hosts, it missed everyone in blue-and-black.

The banks of White Hart Lane began to sing 'Taxi for Maicon', but they were quickly silenced when Eto'o pulled one back in the final 10 minutes. The Cameroonian did well to quickly shift past Hutton and Gallas before curling an unstoppable strike into the bottom corner, setting up a nervy finish.

As the match hurtled towards stoppage time though, substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko iced the game. Spotting Maicon high up the pitch and out of position, Bale kicked the ball past Lucio and beat him in a foot-race to the byline, pulling back for his Russian teammate to score from almost the same spot that Crouch did.

Milito's scything shot from 25 yards clipped the top of the crossbar at the beginning of stoppage time, but Spurs rode out three further minutes to seal a monumental win in their modern history.


Tottenham player ratings

GK: Carlo Cudicini - 6/10 - Made a few important saves in place of the suspended Heurelho Gomes.

RB: Alan Hutton - 7/10 - His crossing was very wayward but he was a solid enough defender.

CB: William Gallas - 8/10 - Brought much-needed experience in a big game like this.

CB: Younes Kaboul - 6/10 - Clearly Gallas' junior, Kaboul sometimes panicked in the first half but calmed down in the second.

LB: Benoit Assou-Ekotto - 7/10 - Linked up ever so well with Bale down the left wing.

RM: Aaron Lennon - 6/10 - Didn't always get the better of Chivu but made his life tough on a few occasions.

CM: Tom Huddlestone - 7/10 - A smooth operator in midfield, despite his cumbersome style.

CM: Luka Modric - 9/10 - So often made the correct decisions. Controlled the midfield battle at will.

LM: Gareth Bale - 9/10 - The main man. Rinsed Maicon inside and out, consistently twisting and turning the Brazilian.

AM: Rafael van der Vaart - 8/10 - Formed a neat triangle with Assou-Ekotto, Modric and Bale in the left channel to Inter's detriment.

CF: Peter Crouch - 8/10 - A proper target man performance. Brought others into play effortlessly and dominated two veterans in Lucio and Samuel.


Substitutes

Jermaine Jenas (CM, 46' for Van der Vaart) - 5/10 - Brought energy and chaos to the midfield battle, but that was about it.

Roman Pavlyuchenko (CF, 76' for Crouch) - 7/10 - Scored the clincher. Job done.

Wilson Palacios (CM, 85' for Lennon) - 6/10


Manager

Harry Redknapp - 9/10 - Clearly empowered his attacking players to take the game to Inter and it worked to perfection.


Inter player ratings

Alan Hutton, Wesley Sneijder
Sneijder didn't have a big enough impact / Clive Rose/GettyImages

GK: Luca Castellazzi - 4/10 - Didn't exactly inspire confidence but it's hard to imagine Julio Cesar would have prevented this result.

RB: Maicon - 2/10 - Taxi for Maicon.

CB: Lucio - 4/10 - Played well when in Spurs' half but was notably ragged at the back.

CB: Walter Samuel - 4/10 - Ran like he was being chased in a nightmare. Booked for a tired challenge on Lennon (in the first half).

LB: Cristian Chivu - 5/10 - Endured a physical battle with Lennon, often cancelling each other out.

CM: Sulley Muntari - 5/10 - Withdrawn with a muscle injury early in the second half. Showed a decent range of passing but was not the dominant force in midfield.

CM: Javier Zanetti - 4/10 - Was unable to keep up with the pace of the game.

RM: Jonathan Biabiany - 4/10 - Showed some signs of danger early on but did little to help Inter try and score.

AM: Wesley Sneijder - 5/10 - Tried to pick the lock but was usually met by a resolute Spurs defence.

LM: Goran Pandev - 3/10 - It's bad when you're marked out of a game by Alan Hutton.

CF: Samuel Eto'o - 6/10 - Dropped deep and into the channels to get involved. Needed more out of his fellow attackers.


Substitutes

Nwankwo Obiorah (CM, 53' for Muntari) - 4/10 - Despite having fresher legs by 53 minutes, he was easily rounded by Bale in the lead up to the second goal.

Philippe Coutinho (AM, 64' for Biabiany) - 5/10 - Brought some attacking flair but clearly lacked seniority.

Diego Milito (CF, 70' for Pandev) - 6/10 - Asked the right questions of the Spurs backline in his brief time on the pitch.


Manager

Rafa Benitez - 4/10 - Failed to devise a game-plan to keep Bale quiet. If anything, Inter's setup helped the winger.


Player of the Match - Gareth Bale


Underrated performances

Tottenham Hotspur's Croatian midfielder
Modric was superb / GLYN KIRK/GettyImages

First things first, Spurs were able to topple Inter in-part because all of their starters played well. Everyone stood up to the challenge and proved that this was the stage they belonged on. There were, however, some who were better than others:

  • It's hard for a player in the ilk of Luka Modric to have a 'breakout game' the way that Bale could, but this was as close as the Croatian was going to get. Tottenham fans long knew of the midfielder's talent, and it was on full display in this match.
  • I've often thought of Peter Crouch in a negative light in this game because of his horrendous first-half miss. But revisiting this with less hate in my heart, he was superb. The connections he had with Spurs' other attackers made up for his lack of finishing ability in big games like this.
  • Tottenham only made three signings in the summer of 2010. William Gallas joined on a free from Arsenal, while Rafael van der Vaart sealed a move from Real Madrid on deadline day. Both brought the requisite know-how to take down the European champions.
  • Alan f****** Hutton.

Inter's decline

Whereas Tottenham's starting XI rose the occasion, an Inter side in need of refreshing shrunk. Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito - the latter of whom only played 20 minutes - were the only players worthy of wearing the Inter shirt that night.

Replacing Jose Mourinho with Rafa Benitez was also the wrong decision, failing to empower his players in the way his opposite number Harry Redknapp did.


Forgotten tidbits

  • Whether football has become more analytical or freedom of expression was encouraged more back then, there were a lot of long shots in this match. Any clear sight of goal? Just hit it. Doesn't matter if it's from five yards or 35 yards.
  • White Hart Lane was deafening on those European nights. It was the most typical old-school English stadium, and believe me, tickets to these Champions League games were like golddust. The ground was filled with people who lived and breathed Tottenham, with every home supporter on their feet to clap and chant 'Oh When the Spurs' in the dying embers.
  • I'm going to go out on a limb and say this Tottenham kit - white shorts included - is the best the club have had in the 21st century. Change my mind.

Was Bale really that good?

Gareth Bale, Benoit Assou-Ekotto
What a player Bale was / Clive Rose/GettyImages

Yes. In 20 years or 20 minutes when some contrarian tries to tell you otherwise, don't listen.

Every Bale possession saw him either run around Maicon somehow or tee up a teammate in a better position thanks to the weird way Inter had to defend him. Modric and Assou-Ekotto were the main beneficiaries of this.

The roar of the White Hart Lane crowd also played a part, urging the Welshman to get at the right-back every chance he had.

Touchline wingers are harder to come by in football nowadays, but the thrill of watching a pacy sprinter just gallop past a defender triggers a certain sort of endorphin.

Bale wasn't just a straight-line runner, though. As mentioned, he knew how to utilise his teammates well and was excellent in tight spaces, which made it basically impossible for Inter to defend him. At times, they left him wide open in the hope that any cross he put in would be a poor one. Their fear was palpable and feasted upon.

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