FOOTBALL / Barcelona held; Man United eases to a win
The chinks in Inter Milan's armour were exposed again by Gareth Bale in Tottenham Hotspur's 3-1 Champions League win over the holder as all three teams capable of reaching the next stage flopped on Tuesday.
Like Inter, 2009 winner Barcelona only needed victory to go through with two games to spare but drew 1-1 at FC Copenhagen in Group D to show nothing can be taken for granted in this season's enthralling competition.
Olympique Lyon's three-game winning streak and hopes of a quick passage to the first knockout round was dashed in a 4-3 defeat at Benfica in Group B, the latest in a series of European matches with goals and passion galore.
Manchester United was the only group leader which could not guarantee qualification this week but it took a big leap towards it thanks to Darren Fletcher, Gabriel Obertan and Bebe netting in a 3-0 win at Turkey's Bursaspor. Valencia beat Rangers 3-0 to leapfrog its opponents into second in Group C.
Bale made Europe sit up and take notice with his hat-trick in the 4-3 defeat at the San Siro two weeks ago and the Welsh winger added another few million to his transfer value as Inter again failed to handle his pace.
“Definitely the team had a great second half,” said Tottenham's Italian goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini.
“Bale never stops, he just runs and runs. He has incredible speed but very good technique and this helps him put all right-backs in trouble. Then he has a formidable cross.”
Rafael van der Vaart, suspended two weeks ago, sent White Hart Lane mad with a first-half goal after good work by Luca Modric but the Dutchman was substituted at the break with a nagging injury.
Peter Crouch made sure it was an unhappy return to England for his former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez when he slid in for the second on 61 minutes after Bale showed stunning acceleration to whip in the perfect cross.
Red-hot Samuel Eto'o bagged his seventh goal of the group stage for injury-hit Inter but Roman Pavlyuchenko converted another Bale pass a minute from time as Tottenham went top on head-to-head record.
In the other group game, Dutch champion Twente Enschede boosted its slight hopes of progressing with a 2-0 win at Werder Bremen.
Barca's Lionel Messi cast his magic spell on the Champions League yet again with a well-taken opener on the half hour but a flap by Victor Valdes allowed Claudemir to level for Copenhagen just a minute later.
Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos drew 0-0 for the second time, meaning Barcelona is still well-placed to go through with victory in Greece in three weeks.
“It's a group of four teams who are champions of their leagues, we still have to fight,” Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said.
Guardiola lost his cool for a rare moment at the end in a spat with home coach Stale Solbakken.
Lyon was also badly ruffled by Benfica's verve and Fabio Coentrao's brace before a spirited fightback from 4-0 down almost levelled matters but second-placed Schalke 04 could not take full advantage with a 0-0 stalemate at Hapoel Tel Aviv.
The results: Group A: Tottenham Hotspur 3 (van der Vaart 18, Crouch 61, Pavlyuchenko 89) bt Inter Milan 1 (Eto'o 80); Werder Bremen 0 lost to FC Twente 2 (Chadli 81, De Jong 84).
Group B: Hapoel Tel-Aviv 0 drew with Schalke 04 0; Benfica 4 (Alan Kardec 20, Coentrao 32, 67, Javi Garcia 43) bt Lyon 3 (Gourcuff 75, Gomis 85, Gonalon 90+6).
Group C: Valencia 3 (Soldado 32, 69, Costa 88) bt Rangers 0; Bursaspor 0 lost to Manchester United 3 (Fletcher 48, Obertan 73, Bebe 77).
Group D: FC Copenhagen 1 (Claudemir 32) drew with Barcelona 1 (Messi 31); Rubin Kazan 0 drew with Panathinaikos 0 . — Agencies