Inter Milan captain Javier Zanetti became the oldest-ever UEFA Champions League scorer as the reigning champions edged out 10-man Tottenham 4-3 in a thriller at the San Siro. This really was a tale of two halves as Inter romped to a 4-0 lead before the break while Gareth Bale scored a stunning second half hat-trick.
Samuel Eto'o notched a brace and Dejan Stankovic added the fourth, all before half-time, before Bale's brilliant solo cameo while Spurs goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes was dismissed after just eight minutes. Inter now lead Group A by three points from Harry Redknapp's team ahead of the pair's meeting at White Hart Lane in two weeks' time.
Bale expressed his disappointment at Spurs' first half showing but said they would learn from their mistakes. "We were sloppy in the first half, we're not really sure what happened," he said. "There wasn't too much to think about with the goals, we just wanted to get back into the game. There are a lot of positives to take from the second half, we kept the ball well. But we're massively disappointed to have lost the game."
This was the day, though, when Spurs' Champions League education truly began as they paid for every mistake they made in a disastrous first 45 minutes. The game was virtually over within a quarter of an hour as Spurs trailed 3-0 and were down to 10-men. The English team had a nightmare start in only the second minute as Alan Hutton was dragged inside by Coutinho who passed to Eto'o to slide Zanetti into the space vacated by Hutton, the Inter captain curling home with aplomb.
And eight minutes in, Spurs's task became near-impossible as Benoit Assou-Ekotto was caught napping, allowing Jonathan Biabiany to run behind him onto Wesley Sneijder's pass. Gomes came out to close down the Frenchman but clattered into him as he chipped the Brazilian. Assou-Ekotto had by now got back into a defensive position, but a penalty was called and a red card shown to Gomes.
Redknapp brought off his playmaker Luca Modric to bring on reserve goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini and the Italian's first task was to pick Eto'o's successful spot-kick out of his net on 11 minutes. Spurs were in complete disarray and they conceded again on 14 minutes as their defence fell apart with Dejan Stankovic shooting home from the edge of the area following good work from Maicon and Eto'o.
The visitors managed to regroup and even mounted an attack, but Peter Crouch should have done better with Aaron Lennon's dink to the back post instead of getting underneath it. Spurs' biggest problem was in defence and Coutinho slipped in Eto'o on 35 minutes between the ball-watching centre-backs William Gallas and Sebastian Bassong and although Cudicini got a touch on his prod, it still found the net.
Redknapp must have said something to motivate his team at half time because Bale scored the goal of the night seven minutes after the restart. The Welsh flyer picked up the ball fully 70 yards from goal, burst between Maicon and Zanetti, ran all the way to the box and then cracked a left-foot shot across Julio Cesar and inside the far post.
And he scored two more goals from identical positions in a frantic and bizarre finish. In the last minute he picked up the ball 40 yards from goal, drove into the box and shot across Cesar before being teed up from 15 yards to drill home another sumptuous left-foot strike in injury time.