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Sep 29, 2010

Dutch master ensures a rosy picture for Spurs

Eulogies are not generally handed out to a player who misses a penalty and gets sent off in the same game, but the 60 minutes of brilliance that Rafael van der Vaart contributed to this Champions League feast at White Hart Lane were worthy of adulation.

• Van der Vaart: Spurs will beat Inter
• Champions League Gallery

While Norwegian referee Terje Hauge was forced to produce a red card to ruin Van der Vaart's otherwise inspirational evening, the example he is setting to those around him is giving his new team-mates a real insight into the levels of excellence they need to reach.

Finishing fourth in the Premier League and making it through to the group stages of the Champions League was a fine effort for Harry Redknapp and his team, but genuine world class footballers come alive on Champions League nights like this and Van der Vaart proved his worth in the grand manner.

It was not just his cultured passing that caught the eye, the experienced Dutch international showed energy levels that took the breath away. Starting so many of Tottenham's attacks, he was also determined to try and finish off most of them as well, with his team-mates dragged along with him.

In combination with the flying wide-man Gareth Bale, the brilliant Van der Vaart ran FC Twente ragged, yet the final scoreline may well have flattered Tottenham on a night when most of the contentious decisions went in their favour.

Twente had as many half-chances as Spurs early on, but the possession counter was swaying heavily in Tottenham's favour as half-time beckoned and Peter Crouch was man-handled to the floor in the box by Peter Wisgerhof. Van der Vaart stepped up to crown his first-half wonder show, only for Twente keeper Nikolay Mihaylov to pull off a stunning penalty save to deny him.

Van der Vaart's mood was hardly improved when Mihaylov pulled off another sublime save from his spectacular long-range volley seconds later, but his wait for the goal he craved against his Dutch opponents was not long in coming.

Many Tottenham fans may have missed their side's first goal in the Champions League at White Hart Lane as less than two minutes after the restart, Crouch's headed assist gave Van der Vaart another chance to make his mark. This time, Tottenham's £8 million signing made no mistake.

The lavish nature of his celebration confirmed what the strike meant to him and three minutes later, this game appeared to take a decisive turn as a rash challenge on Bale earned Tottenham another penalty. Van der Vaart took a back seat this time as Pavlyuchenko doubled the advantage.

Bizarrely, the goal that should have sent Spurs on their way to a comfortable first Champions League win appeared to send a shiver of fear through their ranks, with the Twente reply from Nacer Chadli coming after a sustained spell of attacking drive from the visitors.

A 2-0 advantage is not generally considered to be a perilous lead, but thus seems to be the scenario for Spurs in this competition after they surrendered an identical lead against Werder Bremen on Matchday One. When Van der Vaart was sent off, this tie seemed to be swinging back in Twente's favour.

That was before a trio of match officials contrived to award Spurs a third penalty that did little to convince the watching masses that the experiment of using a floating additional official behind the goal will be a success.

None of the decision makers seemed convinced that they had made the right call after Wout Brama was adjudged to have handled a power-packed Pavlyuchenko shot and after a curious delay, during which referee Hauge initially began to walk upfield to continue the game, he pointed to the spot again. Tottenham's Russian forward duly converted his second spot kick of the night.

Luuk de Jong should have made the last few minutes nervy for ten-man Spurs, but he missed his kick when it seemed easier to score, before the always threatening Gareth Bale added a fourth for Spurs to give the final score line a flattering appearance in their favour.

"I don't know if I have appeared in a game that saw my team get three penalties, me miss one of them and also got sent off, but it worked out in the end," said Van der Vaart. "No one can say we didn't deserve to win and we are now in a strong position in this group."

The normally chirpy Redknapp was curiously downbeat as he faced the media after his first Champions League win as a manager. "The first two penalties were blatant so there should not be any argument over those and even though the third one was soft, I felt we fully deserved to win," he commented.

"I very nearly took off Van der Vaart just before he got his second yellow card because he had put in a strong tackle a few moments before, but he worked so hard for us and there was nothing malicious in his second yellow card. I'm not upset with him because we won 4-1. That's fine by me."

It was hardly surprising that FC Twente coach Michel Preud'homme was seething with the performance of the officials and his complaints seemed justified. "I had the impression that some of the decisions made in the game were a little one-sided," said the former Belgium 'keeper. "If you punish one side for 'handball', then you have to give it to the other team also. This was not the story in this game."

It is a tragedy for Spurs that Van der Vaart will miss the trip to Inter Milan as his duel with international team rival Wesley Sneijder would have been a sight to behold, but his presence in this team has already served to lift them towards another level. With a world class performer in their ranks at last, Tottenham may just be ready to make that next step.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Rafael van der Vaart. He may have been sent off, but Van der Vaart was a colossus during his time on the field. With Gareth Bale on the other flank, Tottenham had real venom on either side of the pitch.

LENNON ROASTING: Aaron Lennon was asked to prepare himself for action by boss Harry Redknapp after 77 minutes, but he didn't take to the field until the 82nd minute. With his manager roaring at him, the winger insisted on fiddling with his socks and boots for a full five minutes. All he needed was some eyeliner to complete his look.

OFFICIAL CHAOS: The referee's assistants behind the goal are supposed to provide back-up to the man with the whistle, but they looked scared to give decisions in this game. Five officials making mistakes somehow seems more offensive than the traditional clutch of three.

TOTTENHAM VERDICT: Don't let the emphatic nature of the scoreline disguise the reality that Twente could easily have left north London with some reward as they looked threatening when the score was pulled backed to 2-1. Spurs will need to improve if they are to emerge unscathed from their upcoming double header with European champions Inter Milan.

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