Tottenham Hotspur are set to play Inter Milan at the San Siro tomorrow in what is the opening group stage match of the Champions League for both clubs. It’s a glamorous draw for both sides, not just because both are good teams with bonafides and pedigrees, but also because of their history in Europe. On paper Tottenham would seem to have the upper hand over an Inter team that is rebuilding after several seasons of disappointing results, but matches aren’t played on paper.
The last time Spurs went to the San Siro to face Inter in the Champions League (they last played in the Europa League in 2013) , the circumstances were completely reversed. It was October 20, 2010. Tottenham were making their very first appearance in the Champions League, and were definitely underdogs as they went to one of the temples of football to face the defending European champions at their home ground.
Spurs were sitting on a healthy four points after a tough draw away at Werder Bremen and a 4-1 home thumping of FC Twente. But Inter were the big dogs, unbeaten in their last 50 matches at the San Siro, and expected to walk the group. Spurs went into the San Siro with a young but talented team that included starting striker Peter Crouch, Tom Huddlestone, Luka Modric, and Jermain Jenas in midfield, Alan Hutton at right back, Heurelho Gomes in goal, and a young Welsh kid named Gareth Bale.
It couldn’t have gone worse. Inter scored within a minute of kick-off, Gomes was sent off in the 8th minute for a bad challenge, and Spurs suddenly found themselves down three goals to nil after 14 minutes, playing with 10 men. They were down four by halftime.
What followed was one of the most remarkable halves of Tottenham football I’ve ever seen. Gareth Bale took the team on his back in the second half, running rampant up the left side, scoring an unbelievable hat trick, including two goals in extra time. A phrase, “Taxi for Maicon,” was born.
The final score was 4-3. Still a loss. But what a loss!
The result gave Spurs the confidence to believe they could beat anyone, including Inter. And they did — Spurs thumped the defending champs 3-0 at White Hart Lane, won their Champions League group, and went on to make the quarter finals before losing to Real Madrid.
Before Spurs make their Champions League return to the San Siro, it’s worth taking another look at that match, as a reminder that good things can and do happen in the Champions League. Even when Spurs lose!