Tottenham completely dominated a poor Inter side to take a stranglehold on their Europa League last-16 tie with a 3-0 first-leg victory at White Hart Lane.
With Inter missing a host of players, Tottenham took full advantage as Gareth Bale and Gylfi Sigurdsson struck early before Jan Vertonghen headed a third after the break. The home side’s pace and vigor proved all too much for their struggling Italian opponents whose only opportunities were squandered in either half by Ricky Alvarez and Rodrigo Palacio.
Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas will have been delighted to avoid the concession of an away goal, but may have a tinge of disappointment that the tie wasn’t completely put to bed with Jermain Defoe, in particular, having several chances to make the scoreline even more emphatic.
In anticipation of the contest there were strong memories of the two clashes between the sides in the Champions League two seasons ago when Gareth Bale announced himself on the world stage.
Within six minutes of this meeting Bale was at it again. The in-form Welshman had already passed up a good chance to open the scoring, as he completely missed his kick from Kyle Walker’s pullback, before putting Tottenham in front.
Sigurdsson, restored to the side of late, did well on the left and produced a good in-swinging ball that allowed Bale to rise above Esteban Cambiasso from 10 yards out and show that he is proficient in the air as well as on the ground with a strong header down into the corner of the net.
The pressure continued from the home side and Jermain Defoe should have made it 2-0 just two minutes later. Making his first start after returning from injury, the striker did well to feint past two Inter players on the edge of the box to get a clear sight of goal but his left-footed effort lacked authority and Samir Handanovic was able to make what was a fairly comfortable save.
Bale’s night wasn’t all positive as he was shown a yellow card for trying to win a penalty when he embellished minimal contact from Walter Gargano in the box. The caution will keep him out of the return leg in Milan next week. Toward the end of the half Bale also missed a clear chance for a second headed goal as he missed the target following another accurate Sigurdsson cross.
Before the match had even reached the 20 minute mark, Tottenham were two goals to the good. Handanovic, one of the few Inter players to emerge in credit, pulled off a fine low save to deny an initial effort on the turn from Defoe, but the ball bounced straight up for Sigurdsson who finished from close range.
It was all one way traffic in the early going with Inter struggling to get anything going. The loss to injury of striker Diego Milito was all too visible on the pitch with Antonio Cassano’s floating movement leaving the visitors without a focal point in attack.
Despite Tottenham’s dominance in the opening period, which also included Hanadanovic having to be alert to deny two Jan Vertonghen headers, Inter had a glorious opportunity to grab a potentially crucial away goal before the break. Ricky Alvarez looked most surprised of all to find himself onside and in the clear as the ball came to him from Cassano’s deflected pass and the Argentinian never appeared to have conviction he would score and dragged a poor effort wide of Brad Friedel’s goal.
That was to prove an isolated glimmer of hope for Inter, though. At the start of the second half, Tottenham increased the pressure once more and soon got the reward of a third goal. Inter had already received adequate warning about the threat from set-pieces when Vertonghen somehow failed to make proper contact having been left completely free at the back post from Bale’s in-swinging free kick.
But Inter didn’t learn their lesson and, just minutes later, Vertonghen was again left free and able to get up all too easily just six yards out from Bale’s corner and thump a header past Handanovic.
Handanovic kept the score down with good saves from Defoe and Aaron Lennon before Palacio squandered Inter’s last chance of taking anything back to Italy as he shot straight at Brad Friedel having been found in the clear from Cambiasso’s quickly taken free kick.