Spurs soar to top of the Group A after beating holders
Tottenham Hotspur enjoyed one of their most impressive results in recent history as Rafael van der Vaart, Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko all scored to give them a 3-1 win over holders Inter Milan in an open and entertaining Group A game at White Hart Lane.
With van der Vaart giving Spurs a first half lead and Crouch giving his team breathing space with a second half goal, it was again Gareth Bale who stole the headlines.
Maicon appeared to not have learnt his lesson after Bale's his hat-tick performance two weeks ago and, despite not scoring this time round, he was again the star of the show. Time and time again he run past the Brazilian right-back as if he wasn't there, by assisting both Crouch and Pavlyuchenko in their goals while Samuel Eto'o netted a consolation.
Spurs enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges, forcing a couple of corners to test Inter, and their reserve goalkeeper’s, resolve. Luka Modric a pop for Spurs after making space in the area with a neat step-over
Gareth Bale, the hat-trick hero for Tottenham in the last fixture between these two sides, immediately started where he left off and went past Maicon twice as if he wasn’t there, but both times the delivery was snuffed out by the Italian outfit’s central defenders before Peter Crouch could steal in.
Luka Modric then picked the ball up around 30 yards out and ran diagonally at the Inter defence and found enough space, by selling Lucio with a step-over to have a shot but the attempt lacked power and Luca Castellazzi get down well to smother the ball.
However, the next time the Croatian found himself with the opportunity to run at the defence, he was far more productive. Again Modric skipped past an Inter challenge but this time, instead of having a shot, he slid a neat pass right between Javier Zanetti and Lucio for the waiting Rafael van der Vaart to run onto and power past Castellazzi.
It could, and perhaps should, have been even better for Spurs minutes later though as again Bale waltzed past Maicon and this time found an unmarked Crouch at the back post with a whipped cross, but the England striker opted for power rather than precision and the first-time shot flew wide as Van der Vaart screamed in frustration.
Inter were looking nervous, and rightly so, but managed to get their foot on the ball in the last 10 minutes of the half and started flocking men forward. Wesley Sneijder and Samuel Eto’o continually tried to work themselves into space but, after experiencing the outcome of that combination time and time again two weeks ago, Spurs defended resolutely.
As Inter tried to slow the play down a bit and deflate Spurs' verve, Aaron Lennon nicked the ball off the holders in the final third of the pitch and started an immediate attack by running at Walter Samuel, but the Argentine hacked the winger down and Van der Vaart’s resulting freekick clipped off Jonathan Biabiany in the wall and landed on the roof of Catellazzi’s net.
Again Inter tried to put a foot on the ball and stop the million-mile-an-hour Spurs but their attacks were reduced to pot luck shots from distance from the likes of Suli Muntari and Sneijder which Carlo Cudicini either held comfortable or watched as the ball flew high and wide over his bar.
But, despite their failure in the final third thus far in the match, they very nearly equalised as the first 45 minutes drew to a close. Modric conceded a freekick, by fouling the prowling Eto’o, on the edge of the area and Sneijder’s effort from the dead ball situation rose and fell over the wall perfectly, but as the ball dipped just under the bar Cudicini got two strong hands behind it and denied the Dutch playmaker an equaliser.
Goalscorer Van der Vaart, who was a doubt pre-match, succumbed to his niggling hamstring injury at half-time and was replaced by Jermaine Jenas for the second 45 minutes as Inter, who immediately showed more purpose, looked for an equaliser.
Cudicini was called into action straight away as he charged out of his area to hoof clear a Pandev pass as Sneijder lurked ominously. But as Inter made their way forward, the threat of a Spurs counter attack loomed.
After a few misplaced passes, Spurs themselves got control of the ball and Gallas sprayed the ball out wide to Lennon who, with his first touch, nutmegged Cristian Chivu, who then fouled him. From the resulting freekick Crouch challenged Castellazzi, and the punched clearance fell to Bale on the edge of the area but the Welshman’s overhead kick bounced inches past the post.
Inter looked nervous again and gaps started opening up that Spurs were all too welcome to exploit. Modric run through the center, now in the Van der Vaart role, and as Lennon drew Lucio inside, Hutton received the ball in space and floated a cross over to Crouch, but the striker’s header was too soft and Castellazzi was able to push the ball over the bar.
Inter still threatened though and Younes Kaboul stepped in well to intercept a dangerous Zanetti pass. And that interception lead to Spurs going 2-0 up.
Bale picked up the ball and again charged at Maicon and, again, made him look like a fool leaving him in his wake as the winger whipped in a low cross, that eluded Castellazzi but not Peter Crouch as the striker slide in to slot the ball home.
Inter were shell-shocked, and for a split second it was even worse as Crouch again bundled the ball over the line but the Bale was correctly ruled to have run the ball out of play before delivering the assist and the goal was chalked off.
As Inter desperately tried to get themselves back into the game, the tempo cooled down and Spurs were more than happy for that to happen. The home side defended very well as the holders continued to probe but after knocking on a door, it will eventually open.
Samuel Eto’o and Sneijder exchanged a few one-twos on the edge of the Spurs area as they tried to find a gap but in the end the Cameroonian striker, using sheer speed, escaped Beniot Assou-Ekotto and lashed he ball home with ease into the far corner past the outstretched Cudicini.
The atmosphere around the ground immediately changed as Spurs fans were no doubt recalling their 2-2 draw with Werder Bremen, after being 2-0 up. Inter continued to threaten as Spurs restricted their attacking intent by simply trying to retain possession.
They needed have worried though as they had Bale in their side. He received the ball around the half-way line and simply pushed it 20 yards in front of himself, confusing Maicon again in the process, and set off after it. Bale got there first and finished it off with a perfect pass across goal for Roman Pavlyuchenko to smash it past the goalkeeper as all those associated with Tottenham Hotspur breathed a massively sigh of relief and Rafa Benitez left England in a bad mood again.