Tottenham Hotspur trounced a sorry Inter 3-0 in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday, while last year’s European champions Chelsea were humbled 1-0 by Steaua Bucharest after being stung by a Raul Rusescu penalty.
Big-spending Russian pair Zenit St Petersburg and Anzhi Makhachkala failed to manage a goal between them as Zenit lost 2-0 to late goals at Basel and Anzhi were held 0-0 by Newcastle United.
Former European champions SL Benfica beat Girondins de Bordeaux 1-0 thanks to an unlucky own-goal and SS Lazio won 2-0 at VfB Stuttgart in other round-of-16 first-leg ties. Fenerbahce won 1-0 at Czech side Viktoria Plzen and Levante UD were held goalless by Rubin Kazan.
Spurs and Inter were meeting for the first time since the 2010-2011 group stage of the UEFA Champions League when Inter raced into a 4-0 lead at the San Siro, before a Gareth Bale hat-trick in the second half brought it back to 4-3. Spurs then beat Inter 3-1 in return leg.
Inter, fourth in Serie A, have been spectacularly inconsistent this season and suffered one of their off-nights, shoddy in defense and toothless up front.
Tottenham went ahead after only six minutes when man-of-the-moment Bale scored a rare headed goal, taking his tally to 10 for Spurs in his past eight matches
Icelandic midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson added the second from close range in the 18th minute after Jermaine Defoe’s shot on the turn was parried by goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.
Bale was booked for diving and will miss the second leg, but Tottenham may not need him after Jan Vertonghen headed a third from a poorly defended corner early in the second half.
Antonio Cassano, briefly banned by Inter following a furious dressing-room row, was restored to the side, but failed to make an impact.
“It was a very good performance and a great night of European football for us. At halftime, we thought we could have gone further, they had a couple of chances, but we had so many opportunities, we played really well and deserved to win,” Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas said.
“They are going through their best phase of the season and conceding two goals at the start of the game penalized my team,” his opposite number Andrea Stramaccioni said. “We did not want that to happen. Gareth Bale is a great player, but tonight was a great night for their team and Tottenham deserved what they got as a team.”
Chelsea, who ended up in the competition after becoming the first European champions to be eliminated in the UEFA Champions League group stage, are in danger of a second European exit of the season after losing in front of a full house at Bucharest’s National Stadium.
Steaua, European champions in 1986, scored the only goal when Ryan Bertrand was penalized for impeding Rusescu at the far post and the 24-year-old forward stepped up to fire in the penalty in the 34th minute.
Despite the setback, Chelsea interim manager Rafa Benitez was confident his team could overcome the setback in the second leg.
“In these kind of games and this kind of competition, if you don’t score away it’s always more difficult. Still, you have to believe,” Benitez said. “We are disappointed, but still we have the belief we will win at home.”
Benfica edged Bordeaux thanks to an unlucky own-goal by Cedric Carrasso, Rodrigo’s shot bouncing off the crossbar and hitting the visiting goalkeeper to ricochet into the net.
Lazio overcame Stuttgart with goals in each half from Brazilian Ederson and Nigerian midfielder Ogenyi Onazi, who picked up the ball in his own half, advanced almost unchallenged and chipped the ball over Sven Ulreich.
Goalkeeper Rob Elliot made a brilliant second-half save from Samuel Eto’o as Newcastle United held out for a dour goalless draw in bitterly cold conditions away to Anzhi.
With the temperature well below zero, Anzhi started brightly, but lost momentum after Brazilian playmaker Willian, signed from Shakhtar Donetsk for 35 million euros (US$46 million) at the start of last month, went off injured after 22 minutes.
Zenit were also goalless until the last 10 minutes at Basel, then Chilean midfielder Marcelo Diaz scored from close range for the Swiss champions.
Veteran Alexander Frei converted a stoppage-time penalty for a foul on Mohamed Salah by Luis Neto, who was also sent off.
Cameroon forward Pierre Webo scored an 81st-minute goal to give Fenerbahce their 1-0 win at Plzen.