at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
London – Tottenham Hotspur coach Andre Villas-Boas said Gareth Bale's suspension-incurring booking in the 3-0 win over Inter Milan merely capped a perfect evening for the Premier League side.
Bale headed Tottenham in front in the first leg of the Europa League last-16 tie at White Hart Lane on Thursday, before teeing up the third goal for Jan Vertonghen after Gylfi Sigurdsson had doubled the hosts' lead.
Shortly after his sixth-minute opener, the Welshman received a caution for diving that rules him out of next week's return leg in Milan.
However, with Bale having now wiped his disciplinary slate clean ahead of a potential quarter-final, Villas-Boas said the booking had arrived at an opportune moment.
“He'll be a great miss,” said the Spurs manager.
“To be fair, with this result, we would have asked him to get the yellow card (if he had not been booked) to be 'clean' for the last eight.
“We're in a good position, but it's not finished. We'll miss Gareth because he's been influential in consecutive games, but hopefully we can make it through to the last eight without him.”
Bale's booking, after he went down under a challenge from Walter Gargano in the 15th minute, was the fourth time this season that he has been shown a yellow card for diving.
Villas-Boas, however, refused to be drawn into a discussion about the 23-year-old's reputation for simulation.
“I don't want to go into that,” he said.
“We have a wonderful player to enjoy and it's ridiculous if we go into this.”
Bale's goal took his tally to 10 in his last eight games, while his all-round display continued his record of producing extraordinary performances against Inter.
He scored a hat-trick at San Siro in his first game against the Nerazzurri in the Champions League group phase in 2010-11, before masterminding a 3-1 win in the return fixture.
Villas-Boas believes Bale has responded well to being granted more attacking freedom.
“He scored an excellent goal tonight, with his head,” said the Portuguese, who worked on Inter's back-room staff under Jose Mourinho.
“He's a tremendous player, so powerful through the middle and so unpredictable, as he plays on the left, through the middle, on the right.
“It's a great moment in his career and we're very lucky to have him.”
Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni insisted he had no regrets about not making special plans to counter the threat posed by the irrepressible Bale.
“Obviously we know Gareth Bale is a great player, but I believe tonight was a big night for the whole (Tottenham) team,” he said.
“Bale gave us a problem on the first goal, when he exploited his physicality, but I believe Tottenham deserved what they got as a team.”
Stramaccioni saw Ricardo Alvarez and Rodrigo Palacio spurn excellent chances for his side, but despite the unenviable task facing Inter in next week's second leg, he vowed that his team would not give up hope.
“We all know it's going to be very hard going, a very tough situation to face,” he said.
“First of all, we want to win the second leg. As we all know, football is a beautiful game and you never know what can happen. But we're fully aware it's going to be very hard.” – Sapa-AFP