A decimated Inter were utterly embarrassed in a 3-0 defeat to Tottenham, as their Europa League hopes are hanging by a thread.
The Nerazzurri were in an emergency situation, as due to injuries and cup-tied players were without Diego Milito, Walter Samuel, Yuto Nagatomo, Zdravko Kuzmanovic, Matias Silvestre, Ezequiel Schelotto, Tommaso Rocchi, Dejan Stankovic, Joel Obi, Gaby Mudingayi and Luca Castellazzi. Fredy Guarin failed a fitness test and was only ready for the bench, though Andrea Ranocchia and Esteban Cambiasso did start. Antonio Cassano returned to the starting XI after his blazing locker room row with Andrea Stramaccioni, but Rodrigo Palacio was rested.
Spurs were still unbeaten in the Europa League, but missed Emmanuel Adebayor, Younes Kaboul, Sandro, Tom Huddlestone and Clint Dempsey. Gareth Bale faced Inter again after scoring a hat-trick against them in the 2010 Champions League.
The Inter defence was caught out by a Gylfi Sigurdsson cross and Bale jumped well above Cambiasso for a glancing header into the far bottom corner, giving Samir Handanovic no chance. It was the Welsh winger’s 21st goal of the season in all competition.
Handanovic was needed soon after when parrying a Jermain Defoe snapshot from distance, while Bale also tested the goalkeeper.
Bad news for Spurs, as Bale was booked for a dive over Walter Gargano’s foot and will be suspended for the second leg at San Siro.
Inter were incredibly sluggish for the first 15 minutes, but slowly emerged and Mateo Kovacic fired over from the edge of the box.
It was only a mere spark, as Tottenham doubled their lead. Aaron Lennon got down the right and pulled across for Defoe, whose shot was beaten away by Handanovic only as far as Sigurdsson for a tap-in.
Ricky Alvarez found space pushing through the middle, but was far too slow and comfortably nudged off the ball.
Handanovic fingertipped a Jan Vertonghen header over the bar from a corner, while another Sigurdsson cross was nodded wide by Bale.
Alvarez incredibly failed to score on 42 minutes when he was sent clear on goal by a Cassano through ball, but completely unmarked he fired across the face of goal. It was an awful miss from the frustrating Argentine. Moments later another Alvarez snapshot was deflected out for a corner.
Understandably, Rodrigo Palacio came on for the second half, moving Alvaro Pereira into defence. It was nearly 3-0, as a free kick found Vertonghen totally unmarked at the back post to volley wide, as Pereira had lost his man.
Pereira was dangerous at the other end, his angled drive somewhere between a shot and an assist for Palacio.
However, Inter’s problems defending from corners struck again, as Vertonghen was allowed a free header from seven yards to nod in Bale’s set piece.
Bale went on one of his trademark runs, this time hitting the side-netting, then Handanovic crucially palmed a Defoe angled drive round the base of the near post with his wrist.
A Guarin error sparked a rapid Defoe counter-attack, but Javier Zanetti was decisive in cutting him off, waiting for the precise moment for a clean tackle. Handanovic rushed off his line to close down Lennon after he had nutmegged Cristian Chivu.
Palacio finally had a genuine chance to score when a Chivu through ball sent him clear, but his low drive was beaten away by Brad Friedel’s foot.
Alvaro Pereira was booked and will also miss the second leg at San Siro on March 14. A Guarin shot was charged down and Cassano’s pass flashed past everyone across the face of goal. In stoppages Zanetti charged down another Defoe solo effort.
Tottenham 3-0 Inter
Scorers: Bale 6 (T), Sigurdsson 19 (T), Vertonghen 52 (T)
Tottenham: Friedel; Walker, Vertonghen, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto; Dembele (Livermore 65), Parker; Lennon (Naughton 82), Sigurdsson (Holtby 71), Bale; Defoe
Inter: Handanovic; Zanetti, Ranocchia, Chivu, Juan Jesus (Palacio 46); Gargano, Cambiasso; Alvarez (Jonathan 67), Kovacic (Guarin 56), Alvaro Pereira; Cassano
Ref: Lahoz (SPA)