It said everything about the sheer brilliance of Gareth Bale's performance on Tuesday that even after a superb team display by Tottenham Hotspur FC in beating the UEFA Champions League holders, it was the young Welshman's name on everybody's lips.
"Out of this world" was Peter Crouch's assessment of the 21-year-old who, a fortnight after his hat-trick in Tottenham's 4-3 defeat at the San Siro, again caught the eye by setting up two goals in the 3-1 win which lifted Harry Redknapp's side above FC Internazionale Milano at the Group A summit. "Unplayable" was the verdict of Spurs captain Tom Huddlestone, who added: "
I don't know how you can defend against him. If you drop off, he can pick a pass and if you get too tight, he is just going to run you."
Maicon, the Internazionale full-back voted the UEFA Club Defender of the Year last season, would no doubt ruefully concur after his reputation took a hefty dent on a night when left-back turned winger Bale ran amok once more down the Inter right. After Luka Modrić and Rafael van der Vaart had combined for the Dutchman to put Tottenham ahead on 18 minutes, Bale, with two lung-busting runs and perfect crosses, teed up first Crouch and then substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko to add further goals in the second half, the third coming after Samuel Eto'o had halved the deficit with 10 minutes left.
The only person not offering superlatives to describe his performance was the modest Bale. He told UEFA.com: "
I am just enjoying playing my football at the moment. I am enjoying it, the team is playing well and it makes it easier for me to express myself. We knew where they were a bit weak and we knew we had players that can hurt them. We just tried to get the ball into the right areas to hurt them and that paid off tonight."
If Bale's efforts in Milan had made a wider audience sit up and take notice of the Welsh international's prodigious talent, then Tottenham's display at a bouncing White Hart Lane sent a message about the UEFA Champions League newcomers. The successors of the much-loved team that reached the semi-finals of the European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1961/62, have begun writing their own exciting chapter. Crouch, who played in the 2007 UEFA Champions League final for Liverpool FC, believes they can go far.
"I had some great European nights with Liverpool when I was there, but I would put it right up there. We thoroughly deserved the win.
I don't want to get too carried away but I believe we can beat anyone on our day," said the England striker. "Certainly going forward we are a match for anyone. I believe attacking-wise we are fantastic but defensively tonight we were very sound and that was important for us." Crouch's words were particularly true of Younes Kaboul who shone in central defence alongside William Gallas.
Skipper Huddlestone paid tribute to the whole side when he added: "We had a game plan to get among them and press them from the first whistle and luckily the goals came when we were on top. We felt we let ourselves down in the first game against Inter but we fully made up for it. The main objective is to get out of the group and we've given ourselves the best possible chance of doing that. In the knockout stages anything can happen."
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