Europa League - Bale brilliance gives Spurs advantage

Europa League last 32, first leg, White Hart Lane – Tottenham Hotspur 2 (Bale 45, 90) Lyon 1 (Umtiti 55).

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Europa League - Bale brilliance gives Spurs advantage
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Gareth Bale of Tottenham Hotspur (C) celebrates his goal against Olympique Lyonnais with teammates William Gallas (L) and Kyle Walker during their Europa League soccer match at White Hart Lane in London February 14, 2013. REUTERS

Gareth Bale hit a last-gasp free-kick to give Tottenham Hotspur a 2-1 victory over Lyon in the first leg of their Europa League last 32 clash at White Hart Lane.

Bale had opened the scoring with a brilliant long-range free-kick on the stroke of half-time, his 16th goal of the season in all competitions.

Lyon equalised 10 minutes into the second half when teenage full-back Samuel Umtiti thrashed an astounding half-volley into the top right from a seemingly safe position on the left wing.

Spurs, who had been the better side prior to conceding, then toiled somewhat as the match deemed to be drifting into a score draw.

But, after drawing a foul from Wesley Fofana in the last minute of stoppage time, Bale swung an effort that took a deflection off the wall to fly past Remy Vercoutre and in.

The first half was a top-and-tail affair, with excitement at the start and end of the 45, and not much in between.

Bale was, as usual, the main man. Early on he sent an audacious volley over after a fine cross by Kyle Walker, while he was involved in most of Spurs’ moves forward with marauding runs inside from the left.

There were also chances for Lyon, with Bafetimbi Gomis denied a good penalty appeal after a clumsy tackle from Jan Vertonghen and - from the subsequent corner – Dejan Lovren putting a header too close to Brad Friedel, preferred to ex-Lyon keeper Hugo Lloris.

But Spurs were creating the lion’s share of the chances, as Milan Bisevac did well to intervene when another fine Walker ball was set for an Emmanuel Adebayor tap-in.

Walker was dovetailing nicely with Aaron Lennon, who himself was looking sprightly, sending one delightful through-ball that Adebayor thrashed wide.

Spurs are all about Bale though, and it looked like one of his moments would mark the match. However, it was not a positive one as the Welsh wizard somehow fluffed an open goal after Walker found him with the net at his mercy on the edge of the six-yard box.

It was a shocking miss by anyone’s standards. In mitigation Bale seemed slightly off balance as he arrived unmarked, but his insistence on using his left foot when his right would have buried it was probably the cause.

That blooper soon became a distant memory.

When Alexandre Lacazette clumsily tripped Clint Dempsey around 35 yards from goal at the end of the first half, it seemed too far out to consider a shot.

But, having been compared to Cristiano Ronaldo in recent weeks, Bale stepped up and pinged a vicious, swerving, dipping free-kick that somehow spun down at the last to bounce off the line and into the bottom left corner.

The strike was remarkable in its audacity and execution – and almost identical to Ronaldo’s hallmark dead-ball deliveries.

The equaliser 10 minutes into the second half was equally impressive. Lyon had just seen a second penalty appeal rejected, although Lacazette seemed to foul himself as he fell while rising for a header.

Ex-Spurs midfielder Steed Malbranque then swung over a teasing cross, which William Gallas appeared to have done well to head away from Lisandro and Gomes.

Ordinarily Spurs would have reorganised to cover the follow-up cross but, after continuing his run down the left wing, Umtiti had other ideas, swinging his boot at the ball to send an unstoppable effort across a dumbstruck Friedel into the top corner.

Ex-Arsenal defender Remi Garde celebrated wildly on the touchline, and his charges did likewise on the pitch as the youngster celebrated probably the best goal he will ever score.

The match opened up with Spurs looking for a second and Lyon happy to break. Friedel saved well from the increasingly influential Lacazette, while Bale forced a decent save from Vercoutre.

Andre Villas-Boas introduced Lewis Holtby for the ineffectual Clint Dempsey as Spurs sought to dictate possession more, but they seemed to be drifting out of the game as his team-mates struggled to get the ball in dangerous positions, with Lennon in particular appearing to tire.

He was soon brought off but replacement Gylfi Sigurdsson also toiled, as did the whole team in the latter stages.

But in the final moments Bale stepped up a gear, sending in one low cross that Holtby should have converted, before winning a free-kick as the final seconds of injury time ticked away.

It was closer in than his previous effort, and a touch to the right, so the man of the moment stepped up and swung his famous left foot at the ball, which flicked up off the wall to fly past Vercoutre and in.

The second leg at Stade Gerland is next week, and while Lyon have an away goal, the presence of Bale should make Spurs favourites.

MAN OF THE MATCH

Gareth Bale - Tottenham: Two free-kicks, two goals, both in the style of Cristiano Ronaldo. The best player in England.

PLAYER RATINGS

SPURS: Spurs: Friedel 6, Walker 7, Gallas 6, Vertonghen 6, Assou-Ekotto 6, Dembele 6, Parker 6, Lennon 7, Bale 9, Dempsey 6, Adebayor 6. Subs: Holtby 6, Sigurdsson 6, Livermore N/A.

LYON: Vercoutre 6, Lovren 7, Fofana 5, Reveillere 6, Bisevac 7, Umtiti 8, Lacazette 7, Malbranque 6, Gonalons 7, Lisandro 6, Gomis 6. Subs: Grenier 6, Ghezzal N/A.

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