UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GROUP A
TUESDAY 2ND NOVEMBER, 2010
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 3 (1) FC INTERNAZIONALE MILANO 1 (0)
Van der Vaart, 18
Referee:- Mr. V. Kassai
Assistants:- Mr. G. Ring & Mr. T. Vamos
Fourth official:- Mr. F. Bede
Additional assistants:- Mr. M. Fabian & Mr. T. Bognar
Spurs (4-4-1-1):- Cudicini; Hutton, Gallas, Kaboul, Ekotto; Lennon (sub Palacios, 84), Huddlestone (Capt.), Modric, Bale; Van der Vaart (sub Jenas, 46); Crouch (sub Pavlyuchenko, 76)
Subs not used:- Pletikosa; Bassong; Kranjcar; Keane
Booked:- Hutton (foul), Jenas (simulation), Modric
Inter (4-2-3-1):- Castellazzi; Maicon, Lucio, Samuel, Chivu; Zanetti (Capt.), Muntari (sub Nwankwo, 53); Biabiany (sub Coutinho, 64), Sneijder, Pandev (sub Milito, 71); Eto’o
Subs not used:- Orlandoni; Cordoba, Materazzi; Santon
Booked:- Samuel (foul on Lennon), Chivu (foul on Lennon), Lucio (foul on Modric)
Simply the best!
Last night, as I was enjoying my celebratory pint in the “Euston Flyer”, I was approached by a man who told me that as a boy he had queued up with his Dad to get tickets for the Spurs v Benfica European Cup semi-final game in 1962. He had therefore been present at what is still hailed as one of the greatest European nights ever in the history of Tottenham Hotspur. The man clasped my hand and said, “I am so proud to have been at The Lane tonight, because this beats that Benfica game. It was the best ever!”
Well, I am not so sure he is right, bearing in mind that victory over the then mighty Benfica, and our UEFA Cup wins against Wolves and Anderlecht, but it certainly was one of the fantastic Spurs occasions, and those of us lucky enough to be there will remember it for the rest of our days.
The Tottenham Flyer – Gareth Bale – dominated the headlines two weeks ago with his sensational and historic second half hat-trick in the San Siro, but in my view, his performance last night was even more accomplished, and was displayed throughout both halves of the game. Such was Gareth’s domination of Brazilian right back Maicon (one of four Inter players nominated for the FIFA World Player of the Year) that in the second half Spurs fans were chanting “Taxi for Maicon”. I haven’t seen Bale so consistently make mincemeat of any right back, as he did last night.
However, the win was not just about Bale. It was truly a team effort, with solid performances from 1 to 11, or 23 to 15, whichever way you want to look at it. Carlo Cudicini made a terrific save from a Sneijder free kick, and was confident throughout. The team closed down their opponents well, and their quick intricate passing movements were superb. The defence was solid against surely two of the best players in the world in the shape of Samuel Eto’o and Wesley Sneijder, both of whom offered a threat all night. After going two goals up, Spurs were perhaps guilty of defending too deeply, and paid a penalty after Rafael Benitez switched to 4-4-2 with Argentinean striker Milito joining the fray and having an immediate impact. However, despite Eto’o getting a goal back after 80 minutes, that man Bale simply repeated his earlier trick of racing down the field, passing Maicon, and teeing up the striker (this time Pavlyuchenko) for a goal that restored Spurs’ two goal lead and ensured that we would finish the night top of Champions League Group A. Who would have dreamt of that, eh? We were; we are; we remain “Simply the best”.
Having said it was a team effort, there are several names worthy of particular mention. Van der Vaart put Spurs in the lead after superb work by Modric, and both these players were particularly impressive. In particular, there were many super moves down the left flank where Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Bale, Modric and Van der Vaart combined to great effect. The back four were solid, and William Gallas surely had his best game in a Spurs shirt. Kaboul made a couple of mis-judgements in the first half, but overall, he too was super. Tom Huddlestone played the more withdrawn midfield role, but he made winning tackles and trademark passes. Aaron Lennon offered an alternative form of attack, with some back to form runs and crosses, ably supported by the rejuvenated Alan Hutton.
Having mentioned Sneijder and Eto’o, Spurs had players last night who also would surely justify a place in most world team squads – notably van der Vaart, Bale and Modric – on the form and skill displayed here.
Tom Huddlestone had the honour of leading his team out onto the White Hart Lane turf to the exalted Champions League theme, now becoming more and more familiar to us. The home crowd was up for the action from the outset, and provided a great atmosphere all night. Milan’s travelling fans occupied the Park Lane lower tier in the south-west corner, offering a few banners and colour, but not much in the way of noise competition to the Spurs fans.
Spurs won a corner after only one minute following a fine move started by Huddlestone and worked through Van der Vaart, Bale and Ekotto. It was Ekotto’s final cross that led to the corner. Inter’s key players had the ability to create space for themselves and keep control of the ball in tight spots. Sneijder fed Eto’o after 6 minutes, and the Cameroon striker drew back from Kaboul, giving himself space for a shot that was only just wide of Cudicini’s left post. Modric got a shot on target after 8 minutes, but it had no power and was easy meat for second choice goalkeeper Luca Castellazzi. Inter were missing one or two key players, such as Cambiasso, Cesar, and held back Milito on the bench, but of course Spurs are missing key players too!
Van der Vaart was to the fore after 11 minutes, as Spurs worked the ball forward after a throw. The Dutchman sent Bale away, and he passed Maicon (not for the first or last time!), before hitting a cross/shot that the goalkeeper saved. Spurs deservedly took the lead in the 18th minute. This time it was Ekotto who fed the ball inside to Modric, who passed his marker on the outside going right, but then cleverly reversed the ball to Van der Vaart, who just beat the offside flag, carried the ball to his left then fired home with a low shot. His celebrations down the East Stand touchline were shared around the ground!
Spurs and their fans were sniffing glory, and there was no let-up in their efforts to secure a mighty victory. Bale left Maicon standing again, before hitting a deep cross that reached the feet of Peter Crouch. Considering the level of the game and opposition, Crouch had time to pick a spot beyond the keeper, but managed to fire wide back across goal. Crouch had his head in his hands, but had the last laugh when he scored in the second half, and can also hold his head high for his contributions by winning, retaining, controlling and successfully passing the ball so often.
Huddlestone won the ball with a good tackle on the half-hour near the half-way line sending a long ball to Bale, who after a run hit a right foot shot over the target. Central defender Walter Samuel got the first yellow card of the night for a foul on the advancing Lennon on the edge of the Inter box. Van der Vaart took the kick which was deflected over for a corner.
Inter came back at us though, and Cudicini was down well to hold a Sneijder shot, whilst Hutton also went into the Hungarian referee’s book for a foul. Mr. Kassai had a good game, allowing it to flow, and his bookings could all be justified. Any game in which the officials are hardly noticed has to be good, and of course this was a memorable game with flowing football at both ends. An Inter free kick was floated in and Samuel was a threat in the Spurs box, where Cudicini rose to claim the ball with confidence.
After 40 minutes, Bale crossed and Crouch headed down for Van der Vaart, who teed up Huddlestone for a shot that went over the goal. A minute later Modric was penalised outside the spurs area for a foul on Eto’o. Sneijder took the kick and Cudicini made a great save to his left corner, even getting both hands to the ball. Huddlestone, Modric and Van der Vaart then played a part in a move which ended with a cross that Lennon just failed to reach.
Van der Vaart had to be replaced at half-time due to a recurrence of his hamstring strain. Jenas replaced him, but in effect replaced Modric in midfield, with the little magician simply slotting into Van der Vaart’s role behind the striker. Jenas had an impact immediately with a decent angled pass to Hutton down the right flank. Chivu got a yellow card for cynical block on Lennon, who had sent the ball past the left back, and was set to race after and claim it for a deeper run. Huddlestone took a free kick, and Kaboul was up to challenge the keeper who could only pat the ball to the edge of the box, where Bale tried an overhead kick that only just missed the left-hand post.
Harry Redknapp’s former player Sulley Muntari, who had been partnering Zanetti at the back of Inter’s midfield, was replaced by Obiora Nwankwo, whose name inevitably attracted some giggles from the home fans, when announced.
After 54 minutes, Jenas found Hutton, whose cross was headed by Crouch and just tipped over by Castellazzi. Then in the 61st minute came a great goal for Spurs, and a precious two goal lead. Modric won a battle for the ball deep in Spurs’ half, rounded his man and sent Bale away with an accurate pass. Bale simply flew down the line and left two or more Inter shirts in his wake before hitting a pinpoint cross into the dangerous “no-man’s land” zone, which was converted with glee by Crouch in front of the Paxton Road stand. It was Crouch’s goal, but Bale was getting the crowd’s adulation.
Benitez must have been a worried man now, because his substitutions came in fairly short order. Firstly he replaced Biabiany with the impressive Coutinho, and subsequently Pandev with Milito, when Inter switched to a 4-4-2 with Milito partnering Eto’o.
Spurs did get the ball in the net again through a Bale/Crouch combination, but this time Bale had just carried the ball out of play before crossing. Milito had an early chance receiving the ball down the left channel and hitting a shot just wide across the goalmouth. Jenas got a yellow for “simulation” trying to win a free kick on the edge of the Inter area. Peter Crouch was replaced by Pavlyuchenko, but within 5 minutes, Inter had reduced the deficit. Inter had been pressing hard, and the goal came as no surprise. That man Sneijder threaded a ball to Eto’o who was lurking to the left, and with a swift move he sent a low drive past Cudicini’s left hand in front of the travelling fans.
Harry Redknapp sought to shore up the midfield, but replacing Lennon with Palacios, and Spurs managed to apply some pressure again, leading to a yellow card for Lucio. With one minute left on the clock, Bale was repeating his trick for another fine Spurs goal. He received a ball out of defence, and raced away, hitting the ball a good 8 yards beyond the Inter defence, but having the stamina and pace to win the race for that ball. Off he went towards the bye-line again, and this time Pavlyuchenko was the beneficiary for another good low cross, and a good finish.
Thereafter, Spurs played out the three minutes added time with little to worry about, before the cheers rang out around The Lane and some 33,000 of the crowd went home with beaming smiles that have yet to disappear. Even the Victoria Line was still open, despite a Tube strike, to cap a fantastic night.
Twente won 2-0 in Bremen last night and are just two points behind Spurs and Inter. A win over Bremen on November 24th should ensure Spurs qualification for the last 16, but if (and it’s a big IF) Twente were to beat Inter then it could be a very interesting last round of the group stage. Whatever happens, both Spurs’ remaining games should be great European nights, but you really can’t cap this one, can you? We have, after all beaten the Champions of Europe on the night and "on aggregate"!
Champions League Group A
P W D L F-A GD PTS
1.Spurs 4 2 1 1 12-8 4 7
2.Inter Milan 4 2 1 1 11-8 3 7
3.Fc Twente 4 1 2 1 6-7 -1 5
4.SV Werder Bremen 4 0 2 2 3-9 -6 2