TOTTENHAM almost made the greatest of escapes in Milan last night, losing to Inter but salvaging some pride against the European Champions in a remarkable game.
After effectively losing the game in the opening 14 minutes, when they went 3-0 down and had goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes sent off, the remaining 10 men fought a rearguard action and a sensational second-half-hat-trick from the outstanding Gareth Bale almost brought them a draw that looked impossible when they trailed 4-0 at half-time.
Harry Redknpp’s men, rookies in the competition, were no match for Rafael Benitez’s reigning European Champions during an opening half that was brutal. A goal behind inside 70 seconds, the opening quarter of an hour was a disaster for Spurs as they found themselves 3-0 down and reduced to 10 men after the Brazilian goalkeeper was sent off.
When Eto’o made it 4-0 10 minutes before half-time, there looked to be no way back until Bale showed what could be done with a breathtaking hat-trick.
“It was a fantastic hat-trick from Gareth, just an amazing performance again from him,” said Redknapp.
“It’s what he’s been showing us for a year, that he’s as good a left-sided player as there is anywhere. There won’t be many better than him in the world right now.”
But the Spurs manager had harsh words for his side at half-time after their abject start.
“We just started the game sloppy. In the first minute, we find ourselves 1-0 down, suddenly we’re down to 10 men with the goalie sent off,” he added.
“We were bang in trouble, and at 4-0 down any kind of score could’ve come. You could be sitting on the end of a seven, eight, nine goal defeat playing with 10 men against Inter.
“But in the second half we got at them at every opportunity, and found that if you attack Inter you can score against them.”
It was dramatic stuff from first minute to last. Inter opened the scoring with 69 seconds on the clock. Javier Zanetti started and finished the move on the left. The 37-year-old midfielder found Coutinho, who moved the ball on to Samuel Eto’o, whose perfect pass inside Alan Hutton allowed Zanetti the time and space to curl his shot over Gomes.
Even worse was to follow when Gomes was sent off barely five minutes later and Eto’o made it 2-0 from the penalty spot. A great through ball from Wesley Sneijder sent Maicon foraging forward from right back, and as he darted into the box past Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Gomes came charging out. The Brazilian goalkeeper sent his compatriot flying, and Slovenian referee Damir Skomina pointed straight to the penalty spot.
He also showed a red card to Assou-Ekotto, only realising Gomes was the guilty man after consultation with the fifth official.
Carlo Cudicini went on to replace Gomes, with Luka Modric sacrificed, and the Italian goalkeeper’s first touch of the ball was to pick it out of the net after Eto’o smashed home his fifth goal of the competition.
Suddenly the San Siro pitch looked dauntingly big for the 10 men of Tottenham against the European Champions, and Redknapp’s men seemed to freeze as Dejan Stankovic made it 3-0 in the 14th minute.
The Serb received the ball on the edge of the penalty area after an exchange of passes with Eto’o, and though his shot appeared straightforward, Cudicini was rooted to his goal-line and the ball crept in by the post.
Spurs were breached again in the 35th minute, when Coutinho set Eto’o through on goal, and he held off William Gallas to slide a shot under the body of Cudicini and make it 4-0.
Spurs were being run ragged and trooped off looking dejected at half-time. But with their noisy contingent of fans refusing to throw in the towel, Bale got one goal back – and what a goal.
Collecting the ball in his own half, the Welshman started off like a steam train on a 50yard dash that took him past three defenders before shooting past Julio Cesar into the far corner of goal.
Suddenly the Spurs fans started singing “We’re going to win 5-4”, and the players looked like they believed it too. Assou-Ekotto shot over the bar, Jenas surged on goal and Crouch went down when he might have scored.
Then in the final minutes, Bale repeated his first goal, running strongly down the left before shooting past Julio Cesar.
And when he scored again in the final minute, hitting the same corner from Aaron Lennon’s pass, an unlikely point became a possibility.
But it was too little, too late, and Inter held on for the win to take complete control of Group A.
Subs for Inter Milan: Santon 6 for Stankovic 49, Pandev 6 for Chivu 62, Cordoba 6 for Biabiany 75.
Subs for Tottenham: Cudicini 6 for Modric 10, Keane 5 for Crouch 67, Palacios for Huddlestone 80.
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