Bale in the spotlight as Inter eyes progress
LONDON (Reuters) -- Having seen a 4-0 lead cut back to to a 4-3 win by 10-man Tottenham Hotspur two weeks ago, holders Inter Milan go into Tuesday's Champions League return with renewed respect for the London side's attacking threat.
Group A leaders Inter have seven points from three matches and can seal qualification with two games to spare with victory at White Hart Lane. However, a draw would probably be an acceptable result for them against second-placed Spurs (four points) with a home game against Twente Enschede next up.
One thing Inter coach Rafa Benitez will have been working on is how to stop Gareth Bale after the Spurs wide man scored a marauding hat-trick to almost bring his side level despite playing most of the match with 10 men after the sending off of goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes.
His threat should not have come as a surprise as Benitez had seen plenty of the Welshman when in charge of Liverpool while the Italians have long had him on their shopping list of potential buys.
"Bale played a great game," Inter president Massimo Moratti said after his stunning treble.
"In the past we have tracked him but now he's worth an awful lot more. We were a bit shocked by that Tottenham comeback."
Bale's travelling interest remains a little closer to home at the moment as, when the 21-year-old Wales international was given a few days off last week, he chose to spend them visiting his family in Cardiff.
His attacking flair was on the back burner on Saturday as he was forced on to the defensive for much of the time by winger Nani in a 2-0 Premier League defeat at Manchester United.
Midfielder Rafael van der Vaart, suspended for the San Siro game and probably his team's most influential player this season, went off with what looked like a hamstring injury late in that match and could be doubtful for Tuesday.
With Gomes suspended, Carlo Cudicini is the likely starter in goal while Tom Huddlestone, who missed the Old Trafford trip with an ankle injury, could be fit to return.
Inter will also probably be fielding their second-choice keeper as Julio Cesar suffered a thigh strain in Friday's battling 1-0 win at Genoa.
Luca Castellazzi is the likely deputy with Sulley Muntari expected to come in for midfielder Esteban Cambiasso, who also injured a thigh in the match.
The Genoa game was also a very rare occasion this season where red-hot Samuel Eto'o has not netted but he is likely to carry the goalscoring burden again on Tuesday given Diego Milito and Goran Pandev were only fit enough for the bench on Friday.
The pair may be hoping to start against Tottenham but Benitez has showed extreme caution in his short time at Inter and has hardly ever tinkered with a winning team -- in stark contrast to his six years at Liverpool.
"I've said the team can improve by 30 percent but determination and character are the base for any improvement. We've got to be a bit more incisive," said the Spaniard.
Tottenham Hotspur: 23-Carlo Cudicini; 2-Alan Hutton, 19-Sebastien Bassong, 13-William Gallas, 32-Benoit Assou-Ekotto; 7-Aaron Lennon, 6-Tom Huddlestone, 8-Jermaine Jenas, 3-Gareth Bale; 14-Luca Modric, 15-Peter Crouch.
Inter Milan: 12-Luca Castellazzi; 13-Maicon, 25-Walter Samuel, 6-Lucio, 26-Cristian Chivu; 4-Javier Zanetti, 11-Sulley Muntari; 88-Jonathan Biabiany, 10-Wesley Sneijder, 29-Coutinho; 9-Samuel Eto'o.