|Tottenham punished for sloppy start
Gareth Bale's stunning second-half hat-trick spared 10-man Tottenham's blushes but failed to prevent them slumping to their first Champions League Group A defeat at Inter Milan.
Spurs looked set to be humiliated when holders Inter raced to a 4-0 lead inside 35 minutes through goals from Javier Zanetti, a Samuel Eto'o penalty - after Heurelho Gomes had been sent off - Dejan Stankovic and Eto'o again.
But Bale almost completed a sensational comeback single-handedly, scoring one of the goals of the season before netting twice in the closing seconds to further enhance his burgeoning reputation.
Despite Bale's exploits, the defeat was a reality check for manager Harry Redknapp, who had vowed to stick to his attacking principles.
After watching his side ship eight goals in three European away games this season, he must surely make them harder to beat on their travels.
Tonight's game was arguably Tottenham's most prestigious since they last rubbed shoulders with the elite of Europe in 1962.
But they looked anything but at home in this company in a calamitous opening 14 minutes that saw them three goals and a man down.
Inter to cut them to shreds in just 70 seconds, easily drawing Alan Hutton out of position and allowing Eto'o to feed Zanetti, who expertly curled the ball beyond Gomes.
Spurs tried to settle but Gomes was sent off six minutes later.
Wesley Sneijder played a delightful ball inside Benoit Assou-Ekotto to Jonathan Biabiany and Gomes came rushing out and brought down the Inter winger.
Referee Damir Skomina inexplicably showed a red card to Assou-Ekotto before his assistants helped him rectify the decision.
Tottenham sacrificed Luka Modric - who had been playing off Peter Crouch in the 'Rafael van der Vaart role' - for substitute keeper Carlo Cudicini.
Eto'o eventually stepped up in the 11th minute to beat the Italian from the spot.
Inter were merciless and, as 10-man Spurs retreated to the edge of their box, a lovely passing move ended with Stankovic slipping the ball past an unsighted Cudicini.
Tottenham had already recovered from such a dramatic collapse in their Champions League rookie season but Inter were anything but Young Boys.
The Italians' perfect start was spoilt when Christian Chivu - wearing Peter Cech-style headgear - was cautioned for an untidy tackle on Aaron Lennon.
Stankovic twice went close to a fourth and Crouch should have pulled a goal back when he headed over Lennon's fine left-foot cross.
But the embarrassment soon resumed, Coutinho given an age to pick out Eto'o's run in behind the visiting defence 10 minutes from the break.
Cudicini got hands on the in-form Cameroon striker's finish but not enough to keep it out. The keeper also spilled shots from Coutinho and Maicon before the break but recovered well.
Inter lost Stankovic to injury in the opening moments of the second half and, when it was briefly 10 against 10, Lennon's latest cross narrowly missed the head of Tom Huddlestone.
Davide Santon eventually restored the hosts to full strength but when the next goal came, it went to Spurs - and it was a beauty.
Bale carried the ball from inside his own half, brilliantly beating two players before finding the corner of the net with a stunning finish.
Normal service quickly resumed and Santon forced a good near-post save from Cudicini.
Sneijder went close to matching Bale's effort before Assou-Ekotto wasted more fine work from the winger with a horrible finish.
The hosts withdrew Chivu for Goran Pandev just past the hour mark, with Spurs following midway through the half when former Inter striker Robbie Keane replaced Crouch.
Inter's final change saw Ivan Cordoba introduced for Biabiany, with Spurs soon responding by withdrawing Huddlestone for the combative Wilson Palacios, who perhaps should have started.
Coutinho went close from outside the box in the closing minutes, Hutton curled over from similar range and Palacios was booked for a poor tackle on Lucio.
What followed was the most incredible of finishes as Bale netted in the 90th and 91st minutes to complete his hat-trick.
The winger produced a carbon-copy strike to his opening goal before scoring again in stoppage-time to set up the briefest of grandstand finishes.
# Bale: No joy in defeat
Tottenham winger Gareth Bale refused to take any pleasure from scoring his first career hat-trick after his side went down to a 4-3 Champions League defeat against Inter Milan at the San Siro.
''It's hugely disappointing. We all knew we could do better in the first half. We started off sloppy and we paid the price,'' Bale told ITV1. ''But I think with 10 men we showed what a good team we are, and if we'd had 11 men on the field it could have been a different game. 'It just wasn't a lively start and we paid for it. I think next time we'll learn from this mistake and hope not to have a start like that ever again.''
Asked what was going through his mind when he completed his hat-trick, Bale said: ''I just had the ball and put it in the back of the net. There wasn't too much to think about. 'I was more thinking about getting back into the game, and we did that. But time ran out on us.''
Bale and Spurs at least have the chance to put the ghosts of the San Siro to bed when they meet Inter in the return fixture in a fortnight. ''We had a lot of positives come out of the second half. We kept the ball well with only 10 men, and hopefully at White Hart Lane we can do a better job and get a victory,'' he said. ''The result is what matters and it's massively disappointing. We want to put that right next time.''
Spurs boss Harry Redknapp heaped praise on Bale.
"He's an amazing young player," he said. "He plays left-back, he plays wide left, he scores goals, he can run all day. Even first half, he gave the right-back a torrid time, I felt. The right-back's one of the best right-backs in the world, possibly.
"Tottenham is a club that is looking to progress, not to sell its best players. If Tottenham sell Gareth Bale now, it would send out the wrong signals; it would be a club that would be a selling club. He's a player that we hope to build a team around. He signed a new contract at the club and, hopefully, he'll be here for a good few years to come.
"If Tottenham progress and become a Champions League team on a regular basis, he'll become a big part of the team. You couldn't meet as nice a boy. I think he's happy where he is and he's developing as a player. A year ago, he's nowhere near that player that we see now.
"This is where he belongs and this is where he'll progress. There's no way that the club would or should contemplate ever selling him at the moment, certainly not in the near future. We should be looking to improve the team, not sell when we get an offer for one of our very, very best players.
"At half-time, we'd have all gone home at 4-0 for sure. You could just see more damage coming second half. It was like your worst nightmare. Second half, we stayed with two wide men, stayed with one up front and Gareth Bale turned in an amazing second-half performance.''
Tottenham have now conceded eight goals in their three Champions League away games and their match was similar to their qualifying defeat at Young Boys, in which they fell 3-0 down before recovering to lose 3-2.
He said: "We didn't defend well. We were looking to play offside at times, with no pressure on the ball, and we struggled. Suddenly you find yourself two goals down, the goalie's been sent off. It's a very, very difficult next 85 minutes when you start like that.
"Second half, we steadied the ship, we hung in there. To get the three goals gave us a bit of a lift in the end.''
Gomes was unhappy with his sending-off, according to Redknapp.
"He felt it was harsh; he didn't feel he should have been sent off,'' the Spurs boss said.
Rafa Benitez said almost squandering a four-goal lead will teach his Inter side a lesson.
"Bale is a good player, but let us talk about the game," said the Coach after the 4-3 result. Naturally I am satisfied that we won, but the negative aspect is that after an excellent first half we lacked intensity in the second. We have got to learn how to control the game better, as we simply cannot finish like this.
"With 11 men against 10 the tactics weren't important, as it was all about the mentality. I hope this lapse in concentration can teach Inter a lesson. Bale was incredibly fast, more so than our defenders," he added.
"At White Hart Lane there will be a difficult match and we must be careful. But you will see, the real Inter was the one seen in the first half."