Javier Zanetti briefly "turned into Diego Milito" to become the oldest scorer in UEFA Champions League history but FC Internazionale Milano came close to defensive disaster.
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It was a night of mixed emotions for FC Internazionale Milano captain Javier Zanetti, who was left frustrated by the three goals ten-man Tottenham Hotspur FC scored in the second half of his side's 4-3 win, but proud at becoming the oldest player to score in the UEFA Champions League.
Zanetti set the tone for what was a remarkable first half from the Nerazzurri when he started and finished a fine team move to put the hosts ahead after two minutes. The 37-year-old had not scored in the competition since his only previous strike against SK Sturm Graz in December 1998, but his goal was worth the entrance fee alone as he raced onto Samuel Eto'o's through ball before curling a fine shot past Heurelho Gomes.
"My last goal in the Champions League came against Graz 12 years ago," he said. "I'm delighted to score again; it was a really good goal, but Eto'o did so well to set me up. For a second I turned into Diego Milito because it was the type of goal he scores. It's certainly a nice feeling to mark my 135th European appearance with a goal."
Zanetti must have felt even better at half-time. With his side 4-0 up thanks to an Eto'o double and a Dejan Stanković effort, and Tottenham reduced to ten men by Gomes's eighth-minute sending-off, a comfortable victory seemed guaranteed. However, Inter failed to convert further chances after the break and Spurs crept back into the game, Gareth Bale mounting a one-man recovery mission with a superlative hat-trick that threatened a dramatic fightback.
"We relaxed a bit and it mustn't happen again," said Zanetti. "But the most important thing is we managed to hold on to the win. We played well for an hour and that gave us plenty of heart but we cannot afford to make the sort of mistakes we made at the end. At least we can talk about these types of mistakes after having won the match."
Nerazzurri coach Rafael Benítez also rued the basic errors that almost undermined Inter's best-laid plans. "We got it wrong in the second half," he told UEFA.com. "We relaxed, gave them too much space, time to think and possession, which allowed them to hit us on the break."
Benítez also admitted that "something is still missing up front" and joked that his versatile skipper might now be used as a secret weapon in attack. "We'll have to prepare him, because the next time Samuel Eto'o makes a mistake we'll tell Zanetti he has to be ready to score for us."