Gareth Bale scored two stunning free-kicks to give Tottenham a 2-1 advantage over Lyon after the first-leg of their Europa League last-32 tie at White Hart Lane on Thursday.
Bale, playing for much of the match in a central role behind Emanuel Adebayor, has now incredibly scored his team's last six goals. Both of his wicked free-kicks came in injury time of each half to give Tottenham the edge heading back to France for the return match next week. Lyon had looked set to emerge with an creditable score draw after they responded with a memorable goal of their own through young defender Samuel Umtiti early in the second period, but it was to be Bale's night once more.
The scoreline was harsh on the visitors, managed by former Arsenal midfielder Remi Garde, after an evenly contested match between two sides who should have hopes of going a long way in the competition. Although Hugo Lloris was denied the opportunity to play against the club he departed last summer, with Andre Villas-Boas opting to give Brad Friedel an outing, Tottenham fielded a strong lineup that showed their determination to progress.
And it was the home side that had the first real chance just before the half-hour mark. Moussa Dembele strode forward and invited Adebayor to shoot with a fine through ball, but the striker struck his first-time effort disappointingly wide of the near post.
It looked like it would be a night to forget for Bale when he missed as clear a chance as you’ll see on 37 minutes. After Kyle Walker danced through challenges on the right before astutely picking out the Welshman, rendering the goalkeeper helpless as he did so, but somehow Bale side-footed wide back across the goal.
But Bale redeemed himself and more in first-half injury time. The Tottenham talisman has improved many areas of his game in recent months, including, as he duly proved, his free-kicks. From all of 35 yards Bale ran up to the ball and struck it with phenomenal movement as it dipped and swerved before dropping with fearsome velocity into the corner to leave Remi Vercoutre with no chance as he scrambled to get across.
It was a strike that would win many goal of the month competitions, but as it would turn out, it may not even have been the best of the match.
Lyon scored a potentially vital away goal with an astounding strike 10 minutes after the break. When William Gallas’s clearing header from Steed Malbranque’s testing cross reached the corner of the box, few would have suspected there was any immediate danger. But they didn’t count on a stunning first-time rasping drive from left-back Umtiti that arrowed into the far top corner.
The goal lifted Lyon’s levels even further and they almost went in front courtesy of a third glorious goal of the game just past the hour mark. Alexandre Lacazette gave a glimpse of his potential as he drifted in from the right and past three challenges before firing a strong left-footed drive from the edge of the box that Friedel did exceptionally to tip over the bar.
But it would be Bale who had the final say as Lyon conceded a free-kick in injury time and Bale struck once more, this time from 25 yards, but with equal menace to take it into the top corner.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.