This enthralling throwback of a performance may have pitched Tottenham Hotspur towards a handsome future. The commitment to adventure was reminiscent of days gone by in the European Cup, when home sides felt obliged to mount an onslaught. Gareth Bale was the epitome of that stance, particularly once Samuel Eto'o had taken a Wesley Sneijder pass with 10 minutes remaining to claim his seventh Champions League goal of the season for the holders, Internazionale.
Almost any other side holding a 2-1 lead would have prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder in their own penalty area. Tottenham's preference was to overwhelm the opposition once more. Just as in the meeting at San Siro, where he completed a hat-trick, Bale was beyond containment by Inter. A minute from the end the midfielder burst down the left, outstripping the opposition, before he rolled the ball into the middle for the substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko to score.
The Welshman has looked increasingly strong since the early part of 2010, but his confident accuracy with the set-up pass is even more telling than the athleticism. A side as worldly as the one managed by Rafael Benítez would have been expected to deal with Bale severely after he had caused them such trouble in Milan. For all the scheming that must have gone on, they simply could not do so.
After this showing Tottenham will have to endure yet more talk of all the mighty clubs around Europe who will be determined to take Bale from them. In its own fashion that simple fact underlines the extent to which his club has made its presence felt. Spurs lead their group, if only on goal difference. Having an eye-catching performer coveted is much more preferable for any club than just being ignored.
There was sign of status as well in the fact that the substitution of Rafael van der Vaart with a recurrence of hamstring trouble did not receive much comment, since even a midfielder of his standing was not indispensable when so many others were flourishing. This goes down as one of the great European evenings in Tottenham's history, yet the crowd will have left gabbling as much about the prospects in nights still to come.
Harry Redknapp's side stripped Inter of any notion that they could be in command of their own destiny. The Serie A team had hoped to pull rank and there a self-conscious swagger at the outset. Sneijder was in so advanced a post then that the midfielder virtually acted as a partner to the striker Eto'o. Inter, conscious that these opponents can falter in defence, were attempting then to undermine Tottenham's confidence and so seize control.
In Milan, Inter had led 4-0 before the riposte of that Bale hat-trick, but they were deluded if they deduced that Spurs had merely exploited a natural lapse in concentration for a side that had almost had too much control. Benítez's conception of the match was to look irrelevant as Tottenham produced bold and sharp-witted attacking on their own pitch.
Inter were fully aware of Bale's talent, but there were other presences to harass them. Tottenham took the lead after 18 minutes, when Benôit Assou-Ekotto passed to Luka Modric and the midfielder evaded a challenge before releasing Van der Vaart to score. The attitude of Spurs ought not to have been a surprise since Redknapp's side are hardly known for cold-blooded calculation.
They have not kept a clean sheet in the 13 matches since they swept aside Young Boys 4-0 in a Champions League qualifier in August. Injuries have played their part in that and while nobody anticipates Ledley King being on the field regularly, the knee problem that Michael Dawson sustained in England's Euro 2012 qualifier with Bulgaria in early September has left Tottenham brittle.
Inter, of course, were unlikely to disintegrate and Carlo Cudicini tipped over a free-kick from Sneijder before the interval. There was a reminder there that Tottenham had not yet put themselves beyond the reach of Benítez's men, even if they had been at a higher level.
The home side attacked for most of the game. There is a measure of idealism to that, but, as Redknapp argues, it is also a realistic stance when the squad has so many people who are best suited to carrying the play to the opposition. Inter did not have a ready answer and Eto'o could not even be recognised as a marksman when play was so often in the other half.
Spurs extended their lead in the 61st minute. The unanswerable Bale, who persecuted the Brazil full-back Maicon throughout, cut loose once more and his low cross was converted by Peter Crouch. Inter had known the worth of the Welshman before they came to White Hart Lane, yet Benítez still had no answer to him. Bale and the others had hoisted Tottenham to a new level.
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