PARIS, October 21 – A second half Gareth Bale hat-trick enabled Tottenham Hotspur to limit the damage on Wednesday but was still not enough to stave off a Champions League loss at holders Inter Milan in a seven-goal thriller.Manchester United, meanwhile, missing injured and want-away striker Wayne Rooney, thanked an early Nani goal to see off Turkey’s Bursaspor at Old Trafford to go two points clear of Rangers in Group C after the Scots could only draw 1-1 at home to Valencia.
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, having stunned observers earlier this week by revealing Rooney’s desire to leave, which the player confirmed Wednesday, said of his side: "I think we did the job – we controlled the whole match."
Of Rooney’s revelations, he said he would not rush to any judgment, while observing that "we want to keep good players."
"We’ll have a view of it tomorrow and see where we go from there," he told Sky Sports.
Lionel Messi meanwhile bagged a brace as Barcelona took over the leadership of Group D thanks to a 2-0 win at the Nou Camp over previous pace-setters FC Copenhagen and French side Lyon were all business in winning by the same margin at home to Benfica to keep up their flawless record in Group B.
The evening’s biggest thrills were at the San Siro, however, where Inter and Spurs produced an enthralling proverbial game of two halves that left the Italians breathless – but in command of Group A.
Rarely can the old adage of getting off to a bad start have applied more aptly than to a shell-shocked Spurs, who managed not only to concede the opening goal after just 70 seconds but then have goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes sent off six minutes later.
Javier Zanetti, fed by Samuel Eto’o, curled home the first before Gomes was dismissed for a rush of blood that saw him upend Jonathan Biabiany after Wesley Sneijder Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
If the visitors thought things couldn’t get any worse they were to be soundly disabused of such optimism as their faltering start descended into an embarrassing nightmare.
Scarcely had replacement keeper Carlo Cudicini come into the fray – playmaker Luka Modric sacrificed – than he was picking the ball out of the net after Samuel Eto’o dispatched the penalty awarded for the foul on Biabiany.
For all of three minutes Spurs tried to regroup but were caught on the hop when Dejan Stankovic netted for 3-0 in the 14th minute, leaving coach Harry Redknapp shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
Counterpart Rafa Benitez, architect of Liverpool’s astonishing comeback in the 2005 final against AC Milan, in contrast was enjoying seeing his stock in the blue and black half of Milan rise ever higher as his side took a grip on Group A.
A second for Eto’o to make it 4-0 ten minutes before the break was a further source of contentment for the coach of the holders who is bursting to emulate Jose Mourinho by leading the Italians to renewed glory next May.
Stankovic twice and Maicon could have added further goals before the interval but Spurs came out fighting to restore their pride afterwards and Gareth Bale pulled one back on 52 minutes with a stunning effort.
Having found his range Bale then struck twice more to give the scoreline an air of respectability – although Spurs now have work to do to ensure progress in this their first season at the top table of European football in half a century.
They were aided to a degree by Dutch side FC Twente and Werder Bremen parting 1-1 to leave Spurs two points clear of the other pair.
Spurs coach Redknapp said he would have settled for "damage limitation" at the break.
"To be honest at half-time you fear the worst – it could have been seven or eight. But I said (in the dressing room) ‘we were playing for our pride. We can’t lay down and get rolled over’."
Benitez blasted his side’s second half sloppiness.
"In the first half we played very well but in the second we were a little bit too relaxed, we made too many mistakes, they played well on the counter but we played for them," he said.