Gareth Bale ready to inflict more pain on Inter Milan
Red-hot Spurs star can torment Italians again in Europa League first-leg, last-16 match
Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale will be out to repeat his torment of Inter Milan when the sides meet again at White Hart Lane today in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie.
The Welshman rose to global prominence in October 2010 when he scored a stunning second-half hat-trick as Spurs rallied from 4-0 down in a 4-3 loss to Inter at San Siro in the Champions League group phase.
He then masterminded Tottenham's revenge in the return fixture, destroying Brazil right-back Maicon in one of the great displays of modern wing play and teeing up goals for Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko in a 3-1 win.
Two seasons on, the 23-year-old forward is in breath-taking form, having opened the scoring in a 2-1 win at Arsenal on Sunday that took Spurs up to third place in the Premier League.
It was his ninth goal in his last seven appearances in all competitions and teammate Michael Dawson believes he compares with the best players in the world.
"Gaz is up there with [Cristiano] Ronaldo and [Lionel] Messi in terms of ability," said the English centre-back. "He's one of the best players in the world at the moment, and probably the best in the world for me right now.
"Some of the things he does would have Ronaldo blush. His goal this season against Norwich, where he picked the ball up in his own half and dribbled past all those players before having the calm and composure to put it in the bottom corner ... he's been brilliant and credit to him."
Inter stalwart Javier Zanetti played in both Champions League encounters in 2010 and has not forgotten the damage inflicted by Bale.
"Bale is a great player and will be difficult to deal with," he said. "We must be brave. But being on the front foot in a game like this will not be easy."
Champions League winners Chelsea, meanwhile, meet Steaua Bucharest. Much water has flowed under Chelsea's Stamford Bridge since they saw off Bayern Munich last year, with Champions League-winning coach Roberto Di Matteo unceremoniously sacked and Rafa Benitez installed as an interim measure - to the dismay of many of the club's supporters.
Yet Benitez, while recognising that Champions League qualification is the overriding goal, would happily lift a trophy and help Chelsea to complete the set of European Cup, the now defunct Cup-Winners' Cup and Uefa Cup/Uefa Europa League.
To date, only Bayern, Ajax and Juventus have won all three.
Benitez has to juggle with the additional burden of a top four league finish with this weekend's FA Cup quarter-final at Manchester United also looming.
"We have to go to Bucharest before we can concentrate on [the United] game," he insisted.
Benitez has a selection problem regarding skipper John Terry, who is returning from a knee injury, while Gary Cahill is getting over a virus, leaving Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz as central defensive partners.
The former Liverpool boss, who won the Champions League at Anfield and the Uefa Cup with Valencia, said of Terry: "He's training. Match fitness and training sessions are two different things and he's improving."
Newcastle complete the English contingent but, in the absence of injured skipper Fabricio Coloccini, face a trip into the unknown as they take on Guus Hiddink's Anji Makhachkala of Russia in Moscow.
Makhachkala have won all their "home" games to date, including a group success over Liverpool. The Caucasus-based side play their home matches in Moscow because their home republic of Dagestan is deemed too dangerous to play.
Newcastle coach Alan Pardew said: "It would be massive if we could beat this team. They are a really strong side." They also include former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o."
Other ties see former European champions Benfica host Bordeaux and Stuttgart take on Lazio, who have to play two home European matches behind closed doors for their fans' racist behaviour.