As the eagerly anticipated Champions League final between Liverpool and Tottenham draws nearer, in this series Tale of Two Halves looks at classic European encounters of the past involving either side.
Before the past few years, Spurs were somewhat unfamiliar to Europe’s premier competition. They qualified for the 1961/62 edition, where they reached the semi-finals before being beaten by Benfica 4-3 on aggregate, but didn’t qualify again until the 2010/11 season.
They had finished fourth in the Premier League to set it up, sealing qualification with a game to spare. For those who do not remember, think David Bentley and a bucket of ice. Manager Harry Redknapp felt the full force of the ice that night, he being the man who was set to mastermind Tottenham’s first foray into Europe’s elite competition in 49 years.
Perhaps the most famous of nights at White Hart Lane that season was against high-flying Inter Milan, that side that had won the cup just six months earlier under José Mourinho.
The Tale of the Tape
Spurs had been handed a challenging group, having beaten Swiss side Young Boys 6-3 on aggregate in the play-off round. They drew not only Rafael Benítez’s Inter side but German giants Werder Bremen and Dutch outfit Twente, reigning Eredivisie champions under Steve McClaren.
Spurs started their campaign on fire, going 2-0 up in Bremen inside 20 minutes thanks to an own goal and Peter Crouch. Whilst Bremen had lost star playmaker Mesut Özil to Real Madrid in the summer, however, they still showed their fighting qualities.
Hugo Almeida and future Chelsea midfielder Marko Marin pulled the Germans level in the second half, the game finishing 2-2. Next for Spurs was a home tie against Twente, which they won comfortably 4-1 with two penalties from Roman Pavlyuchenko.
Spurs and Inter then faced each other for the first time that season at the San Siro. And the first half was a horror show for Redknapp and Spurs, inexplicably finding themselves going into the break 4-0 down.
They rallied in the second half with a Gareth Bale hat trick, including two goals either side of the 90-minute mark, but they weren’t able to complete what seemed like an impossible comeback at half time.
It meant that going into the reverse fixture at White Hart Lane, Inter were three points clear of their opponents having already beaten Bremen at home and taken a point away from the Netherlands.
Despite home advantage, Spurs came into this one as second favourites. They named a strong side, with Luka Modrić, Rafael van der Vaart, Peter Crouch and Gareth Bale (at left back) all starting.
Inter, however, had the firepower of Samuel Eto’o to call upon, with Ballon d’Or nominee Wesley Sneijder pulling the strings from midfield. Diego Milito could only make the bench, however, the Argentine having missed the first fixture between the two sides completely through injury.
Van der Vaart himself almost missed the game, having tweaked his hamstring against Manchester United a week earlier. But he made a triumphant return to the starting XI for this game, giving Spurs the lead on 18 minutes.
Luka Modrić played him through on the edge of the box before the Dutchman drove past Inter ‘keeper Luca Castellazzi.
Whilst van der Vaart scored the opener, it was Bale that was really causing Inter major problems and he almost provided the second for Peter Crouch, the forward putting his effort across goal but wide of the target.
At the other end, Sneijder tested Carlo Cudicini with a rasping free-kick shortly before half time. Going into the second half, van der Vaart felt a recurrence of his hamstring injury and did not make it back onto the pitch for the final 45 minutes.
You sensed, however, that Spurs were not going to let this slip, and Bale went on another marauding run into the heart of Inter’s defence on 61 minutes before squaring for Crouch to tap home.
Inter, despite their defensive weaknesses, knew they had a talisman to rely on in Eto’o. The Cameroon international was a major threat to Spurs’s backline, and he halved the deficit on 80 minutes with an excellent finish past the diving Cudicini.
But having taken apart Maicon, a right-back so key to Inter’s fortunes in not only winning the competition last season but in their quest to become football’s elite side, Gareth Bale kept coming.
The Welshman is known now, of course, for his Real Madrid exploits, having joined the club from Spurs for an eye-watering £85 million back in 2013. But this was the night he really made his name on the Champions League stage.
It is remarkable that, having joined the club in 2007, he was not on the winning side for Spurs until September 2009 – 25 games.
Here, however, he tormented the Inter defence time after time, and capped off an unbelievable display with another driving run and assist, this time for Roman Pavlyuchenko to complete a deserved 3-1 win.
Having defeated Inter in round four, Tottenham topped Group A with 14 points. They beat Bremen at White Hart Lane before a 3-3 draw at Twente in the final round of fixtures, Jermain Defoe scoring twice.
And if the Inter game was the night Tottenham truly made a mark on the European stage, they followed that up with another historic performance against Italian giants. After drawing AC Milan in the last 16, they played their part in a 0-0 stalemate at home before Peter Crouch scored the only goal in the San Siro to send Spurs through.
They then drew Real Madrid in the quarter-finals.
That was where Redknapp and Spurs’ dream ended, defeated 4-0 at the Bernabeu. That deficit was too difficult to overcome at the Lane and they suffered defeat again in the second leg, Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the only goal to send Madrid through 5-0 on aggregate.
Inter were to reach the same stage as Spurs, beating Bayern Munich on away goals (3-3 aggregate) in a repeat of the previous year’s final. They won 3-2 at the Allianz Arena in the second leg, Eto’o, Sneijder and Goran Pandev all finding the net.
Their dreams of lifting a second consecutive Champions League title were dashed in the quarter-finals, however. Inter fell apart in the first leg at the San Siro, losing to Schalke 04 having been 1-0 and 2-1 up, before succumbing to a 2-1 defeat in Germany.
Benitez was not in charge for either game, or the last 16, having been sacked by Inter in December 2010. As for Harry Redknapp, he would stay at Spurs until June 2012, when he was sacked for reportedly failing to agree terms on a new contract.
Spurs would not return to Europe’s top table until 2016 under Mauricio Pochettino, with tonight’s final the furthest they have ever got in the competition.