First the good news. Cracking goals by Gareth Bale. Outstanding. Exactly what we had been hoping to see, in fact. Of all Tottenham's players, he was the one Harry Redknapp was looking to in the San Siro, and he did not disappoint.
A pity about the other 10, really. A pity that what Bale did was rendered largely irrelevant. The scoreline does not flatter Bale, but it flatters Tottenham.
Portent of doom: Javier Zanetti slots the ball past the despairing lunge of William Gallas and the outstretched arm of Heurelho Gomes in the second minute
This game was over after 13 minutesand seven seconds when Inter Milan's third goal went in and, whenSamuel Eto'o added a fourth before half-time, Tottenham's second-halfduty was to avoid becoming the first Premier League team to lose aChampions League match by a five-goal margin.
So, in that respect, missionaccomplished. This was, in the circumstances, about as good as it couldget considering that four goals down and reduced to 10 men, withgoalkeeper Heurelho Gomes sent off, Tottenham were facing abjecthumiliation.
Early bath: Tottenham goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes (L) sees red less than ten minutes into the game after giving away a penalty
The reality is, however, that Interstopped scoring mainly because it was no longer necessary. Their lackof ambition produced startling results, not least because, in Bale, theLondon club have a player who possesses world class potential.
So, amid the celebrations, asobering thought. Hat-tricks in the San Siro are not forgotten in ahurry. What if a leading European club makes it known to Bale thissummer that the next time he scores one, they can ensure it is notwasted on mere face saving?
Bale has signed a five-yearcontract, but so had Cristiano Ronaldo when he developed anoverpowering yearning for Real Madrid. And Tottenham do not have thebest record for keeping players.
Net play: Samuel Eto'o drills his penalty past substitute 'keeper Carlo Cudicini for Inter's second
Put it like this: Inter Milan's leftback is Cristian Chivu. After tonight, owner Massimo Moratti might seeBale as something of an upgrade. At least Bale's hat-trick left Spurssupporters happy.
They deserved to smile, at least.Some of the old stagers of the Champions League can become almost blaseabout visits to Milan, but not Tottenham.
This was the game that said the clubhad arrived, that they were no longer just knocking on the door of theelite. They turned out in force, loved every minute, and to see thebanks of empty seats in the home end made one root for these underdogseven more.
Smiles better: Eto'o enjoys his goal as bemused Spurs boss Harry Redknapp looks for answers
What awaited, however, was a brutalreminder of how far Spurs still have to go. One could only sympathisewith Redknapp for the injuries that have ravaged his side.
He has a lot invested in this aswell, not least when he insists Tottenham are two players away frombecoming title-winners. They need greater strength at the back. Thiswas a makeshift defence, undone spectacularly by Inter, but that is noexcuse.
With Wilson Palacios on the bench,Tottenham's midfield looked fragile but, even so, the ease with whichInter carved them apart was shocking.
Three and easy: Dejan Stankovic celebrates with Maicon after putting Inter three goals to the good
Just a minute and eight seconds hadelapsed when Coutinho played the ball inside to Eto'o, who deliveredthe killer pass to Javier Zanetti, pushing into a ridiculous amount ofspace on the left.
His finish was precise and Internever looked back. This will be Gomes's last game in the ChampionsLeague for several weeks and his long-term Tottenham future may nolonger be guaranteed, either, after the blunder that as good as endedTottenham's hopes of recovery.
Jonathan Biabiany, a young Frenchforward encouraged by Inter coach Rafael Benitez (right), got insideBenoit Assou-Ekotto on the right, and advanced on goal before beingsent skywards by a rushed, rash challenge from Gomes.
Head case: Rafa Benitez congratulates Eto'o after his second put Inter 4-0 ahead before the break
Referee Damir Skomina consulted anadditional official behind the goal and dismissed Gomes. That endedLuka Modric's night, too, sacrificed to make way for Carlo Cudicini,whose first job was to retrieve the ball from his net, having beenbamboozled by Eto'o from the spot. What was the worst that couldhappen? Soon we found out.
Maicon fed Dejan Stankovic, whoplayed a fabulous one-two with Eto'o and slapped a low shot pastCudicini from just inside the area. The agony continued.
In the 35th minute, Coutinho slippedthe ball into Eto'o and William Gallas let the striker go. He needed nofurther invitation to make it 4-0. Be carefulwhat you wish for was the lesson at half-time.
First up: Brilliant Bale weaves his way through the Inter defence to strike his first of the evening
Tottenham supporters had spent somany years yearning for the platform of the Champions League, dreamingof a fixture in Milan's magnificent San Siro stadium, that what hadunfolded represented heartbreak and humiliation on an epic scale.
By the end, the moral of the storywas another cliche: you can't keep a good man down. Bale became thestar of a truly remarkable second half and the scorer of the besthat-trick you are likely to see in European competition this year.
The first was quite stunning as hecollected the ball inside his own half, ran 50 yards down the left,checked inside Zanetti, burst into the penalty area and, as WalterSamuel came across in a desperate attempt to cover, pow.
At the double: Bale's second was another marvellous finish to beat Julio Cesar
The second wasn't much different,Bale collecting the ball 15 yards inside the Inter half, resistingZanetti and finishing sweetly across goalkeeper Julio Cesar once more.
And then there was the third, ininjury time, set up by Aaron Lennon on the edge of the penalty area -to the left obviously - with finishing as smart as that of any striker,even the remarkable Eto'o.
For a brief moment, those perched high behind Inter's goal were dreaming the impossible dream, but time was against Tottenham.
Instead, they will have to contentthemselves that the Italians will come to White Hart Lane in two weeks'time, more than a little wary of the man on Tottenham's left, and withRafael van der Vaart back and Modric allowed a full 90 minutes, whoknows.
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