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Oct 20, 2010

Bale salvages pride after early blitz

While Spurs fans may have been rejoicing at the drama of the occasion, Gareth Bale's stunning San Siro treble may have just set up the beginning of the end of his White Hart Lane career.

• Inter Milan 4-3 Tottenham

Four goals behind and down to ten men at the home of the European champions after 35 minutes, the signs were ominous for Spurs, who looked more likely to be on the wrong end of a 10-0 humiliation than a narrow 4-3 defeat.

But an accomplished second half hat-trick by Gareth Bale - the first Welshman to bag a Champions League treble - took the edge off what was generally a miserable night for the Londoners. Although they will find it increasingly difficult to hang on to their most prized asset when Europe's heavyweights inevitably come knocking at their door.

While it was evident from the outset that Tottenham lacked the guile or class to live with their hosts, this was the night that Gareth Bale emerged as arguably the best left-sided player in world football today. Maicon, Javier Zanetti and, when he came on, Ivan Cordoba, couldn't handle his blistering speed, faultless close control and expert finishing, and are now added to the growing list of victims terrorised by Bale.

From a tactical point of view, Redknapp could well have started with Bale at left-back and Luka Modric on the left side of midfield to adopt a more conservative approach. But Redknapp doesn't do conservative, and neither does Bale.

In the Welshman, Tottenham had an outlet of genuine class but, it must be said, in 18-year-old Phillippe Coutinho, the Nerazzurri possess a playmaker whose vision and invention on the ball was reminiscent of Portugal's Deco at his peak. More importantly, he was central to tearing Tottenham to shreds in a devastating first half.

In what was a footballing masterclass orchestrated by the frighteningly talented young Brazilian, Tottenham were put in their place by an Inter Milan side that took ruthless advantage of a calamitous Spurs start. With goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes red carded, Modric sacrificed and Inter three goals to the good in a tormenting opening 14 minutes.

Spurs were as awful as Inter were superb and, despite the injuries, Harry Redknapp must look at his clownish defence again before he tells the media that he is two signings away from having a title-challenging side.

Indeed, if the thought of joining Tottenham has even fleetingly crossed Wayne Rooney's mind following the confirmation of his desire to leave Manchester United on Wednesday, it was certainly extinguished by half-time.

Tottenham's failings were chiefly in defence, with Benoit Assou-Ekotto yet again shown to be utterly out of his depth at the highest level and, judging by the groans from the Spurs fans every time William Gallas fluffed his lines, it is fair to say that he too has a long way to go before he wins them over.

Aaron Lennon, too, failed to take advantage of the first half yellow card Inter's left-back Cristian Chivu picked up, showing a lack of confidence, even desire, to take him on.

Despite the bittersweet Bale fightback that left Benitez fuming at the final whistle, Inter were good. Very good. And Benitez must be given credit for taking on the responsibility of a Jose Mourinho team that won everything in sight last season. Whisper it, but there was significant proof that Benitez may have injected some style to the solid, pragmatic foundations built by his predecessor.

But this wasn't a night for Inter pragmatism, it was a night for their attacking players: Wesley Sneijder, Samuel Eto'o and kids Jonathan Biabiany and Coutinho, to let their hair down and play with freedom.

Coutinho could be the face of a stylish new Benitez era, with his footballing brain in overdrive to make Sebastien Bassong and Gallas look like strangers (that may not be far from the truth) as he delicately and intelligently crafted space for Eto'o to inflict damage time and time again.

Tottenham's backline were ponderous and inflexible, but against a team that attacked with the kind of fluidity achieved only by Arsenal and Barcelona, they were never going to triumph on footballing merits, despite the gutsy fightback.

Ultimately, this was a night that should belong to 18-year-old Phillippe Coutinho. Instead, the headlines will go to 21-year-old Gareth Bale. But, rest assured, you'll be hearing a lot more about both in the future.

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