Inter Humbled “Taxi for Maicon”

<..."/> Inter Humbled “Taxi for Maicon”

<..."/> Inter Humbled “Taxi for Maicon”


Gareth Bale Terrifies Maicon at White Hart Lane


Inter Humbled
“Taxi for Maicon”

Gareth Bale goes past Maicon at White Hart Lane

2nd November, 2010  Tottenham Hotspur 3 FC Internazionale Milano 1

Inter Milan, the holders of the Champions League, at White Hart Lane – that’s what Tottenham had striven for over the past seasons.  In August, the draw for the Champions League Group stages provided this mouth watering opportunity for Tottenham supporters to sample the true delights of the competition.  Ahead of the draw, the UEFA Club Football Awards presentation had given an indication of the enormity of the task facing Tottenham when four Inter players received all five prestigious awards.

The opening Group A matches were merely appetisers for the main course of two games against Inter.  Thirteen days earlier at the San Siro stadium, however, Spurs’ Champions League campaign had looked doomed.  Gomes sent off after ten minutes, three goals conceded in the first fourteen minutes and facing a four goal deficit before half-time.  A long, tough night was the only prospect for Spurs until Gareth Bale selected that moment to announce himself on the European and world football stage.  He restored some pride for the team with a hat-trick of goals of unbelievable quality.  He ran at the Inter defenders displaying his speed, power and shooting ability as Spurs staged a remarkable comeback to bring an unexpected respectability to the scoreline.  By the end it was the Inter fans who were clamouring for the final whistle.

From that moment on, such were the levels of excitement and anticipation created by the Tottenham turnaround and Bale’s performance, in particular, that tickets for the game at White Hart Lane suddenly became the most sought after in town.

On a mild November evening with the stands filled to capacity, in the midst of the excitement and anticipation there was a tension in the air – anxiety and doubt.  In terms of experience the odds were stacked against Tottenham.  It was Inter, three times winners of Europe’s top club competition while Spurs were debutants in the Champions League, forty nine years after Bill Nicholson’s ‘Double’ winning team reached the semi-finals of the original European Cup.  It was the experienced Rafa Benitez with two European trophy wins behind him against Harry Redknapp, the ‘rookie’ in terms of European football and while every Inter player had appeared regularly in the Champions League, only a few in the Tottenham team had such previous experience.

Surely, Inter wouldn’t be caught cold a second time having relaxed with a comfortable four goal advantage in Milan, surely that master tactician, Benitez, would have devised a plan to thwart Bale’s long raiding runs and surely the UEFA ‘Club Defender of the Year’, Maicon, would be ready to put the young pretender in his place.  Such a performance couldn’t happen twice.

Harry Redknapp’s team selection showed that while spectators may have had doubts, he certainly had full confidence in his players with no sign of a cautious approach.  He sent out his team instilled with a confidence that they should play to their strengths rather than be constrained by any concerns about the opposition and while Inter had only two of their award winners in their starting line-up, Maicon and Wesley Sneijder with Diego Mililto on the bench, their team was filled with an array of talent fit for such a contest.

As Tom Huddlestone led the Spurs team out, resplendent in their all-white strip, an expectant White Hart Lane welcomed the players and the Champions League anthem filled the dark north London evening sky.  The formalities completed, the match started with an electric atmosphere as the home supporters made the stadium a cauldron of noise.

Tottenham played with confidence, in no way overawed by the occasion or the expectations of those around them.  Inter showed their style and movement but Spurs were in no mood to be outshone and started well, winning an early corner.  In the opening minutes both teams tested each other out – a shot from Samuel Eto’o went wide, a Luka Modric effort was comfortably gathered by the goalkeeper.  Then Bale showed he hadn’t forgotten how to get the better of Maicon with a run and cross shot that was saved.  For all of Spurs’ exciting play there was still a lingering fear that at any time Inter would suddenly produce a moment of magic and the Spurs defenders would be left floundering as they had been at the San Siro.  It didn’t happen, the defence stood firm as William Gallas used his vast experience to good purpose and Spurs continued to prosper with Bale continuing where he’d left off a fortnight earlier causing Maicon constant problems.

Then, suddenly Rafael Van der Vaart struck, and Spurs were ahead after eighteen minutes.  Modric had worked the Tottenham magic to set up the Dutchman who controlled the pass and took it on before scoring with a low shot.  White Hart Lane erupted in celebration at the goal and relief on the release of those innermost fears.

The goal further energised Spurs with Bale tormenting Maicon and his co-defenders who had no answer to his pace.  His long cross found Peter Crouch at the back post but, with time to control the ball, the striker shot across goal and wide.  Then, Bale shot over after another powerful run.  Another cross found Crouch who linked with Van der Vaart to set up Huddlestone but he fired over.

Inter suddenly reminded everyone of their pedigree as Cudicini was called upon to make a great save from a Sneijder free-kick after a foul on Eto’o.  Spurs were in the ascendancy as the half ended   and thoroughly deserving of their lead.

Van der Vaart’s contribution was restricted to forty five minutes as he was replaced after a recurrence of an injury but Tottenham continued to play in a similar vein with Modric taking up his role.  As Bale continued to outrun Maicon on the left, supporters filled the air with chants of “Taxi for Maicon” ringing down from the packed stands.  Crouch had a header saved by the goalkeeper but with an hour gone Bale collected the ball just inside his own half.  He took on the Inter defence and left them in his wake as he crossed at pace for Crouch to meet the ball perfectly and put Spurs two ahead.  An unbelievable performance and scoreline for Spurs.  Benitez was worried and introduced the UEFA Striker and Player of the Year, Milito, to play alongside Eto’o to increase the pressure on the composed Tottenham defence.

Bale appeared to have struck again with another devastating run and cross which Crouch placed into the net, only this time Bale had carried the ball over the goal-line.

Excitement was at fever pitch and Spurs repetoire of songs, the strains of ‘Glory, Glory Hallelujah’, ‘When the Spurs go Marching In’ interspersed with the mocking taunt to Maicon filled the night air.

There was always a threat from Inter with their swift, intricate passing movements seeking to unlock the Spurs defence.  With ten minutes remaining Sneijder linked with Eto’o who planted the ball past Cudicini.  A little anxiety returned on the terraces remembering previous Tottenham teams tendency to fold under pressure.  This was a Harry Redknapp team and although he sent on Wilson Palacios to strengthen midfield, it was no backs to the wall climax for Spurs.  They had belief in their ability and with a minute to go, Bale once again set off down the left, leaving defenders trailing, and crossed perfectly into the path of Roman Pavlyuchenko and Spurs had ensured victory with another outstanding goal.  The stadium rose, as one, in delight at the goal and the performance.

While Gareth Bale once again received the plaudits, this was an outstanding team performance.  Some who were privileged to be present at one of the other great ‘Glory, Glory European nights’ at White Hart Lane, against Benfica in 1961, suggested that this match, against Inter, was even better.

Having described the game as the “best match I’ve seen this season”, at the final whistle, the ever critical BBC Radio 5 Live commentator, Alan Green, said to his summariser, David Pleat, “Will you talk for a bit, I’m going to stand up and applaud.”  Some praise indeed.

Tottenham brought a vitality to the Champions League with an exciting style of football which ruffled a few of the establishment’s feathers and their reward at the end of the evening was to move to the top of Group A and into prime position to qualify for the knock-out stages as winners of their group.  Harry Redknapp had thrown out the convention of approaching group games with caution, rather he had followed his natural instinct and selected a skilful team to play with expression.  His footballing philosophy was akin to that of Danny Blanchflower, “ Football is about glory, it’s about doing things with style and flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.’  This game was the perfect example.