Bale Leads Tottenham Past Inter in Europa League; Chelsea Loses

Gareth Bale continued his scoring run and set up another goal as Tottenham beat Inter Milan 3-0 in their Europa League round-of-16 soccer opener. Chelsea lost 1-0 at Steaua Bucharest.

Bale got the first goal last night at White Hart Lane in north London, giving him 21 this season and 11 in the past nine games for Spurs and Wales. Gylfi Sigurdsson made it 2-0 before Jan Vertonghen headed in Bale’s corner kick as Tottenham extended its unbeaten run in all competitions to eight games.

“We set the tempo from the first whistle,” Bale said in an interview with ITV. “It was a great performance and we take a great lead into the away leg with no away goals for them.”

Chelsea went down in Romania to a first-half penalty kick by Raul Rusescu and Newcastle drew 0-0 with Anzhi Makhachkala. Lazio and Basel both won 2-0, Fenerbahce and Benfica were 1-0 winners, while Levante and Rubin Kazan finished scoreless.

The return matches in all eight two-game series in Europe’s second-tier club competition will be played March 14, with the quarterfinal draw taking place the following day.

Bale took six minutes to put Tottenham in front as he jumped between two defenders to head in Sigurdsson’s cross. The Welshman picked up a yellow card for diving eight minutes later, which will keep him out of the second match in Italy.

Sigurdsson made it 2-0 when he scored off the rebound after Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic stopped Jermain Defoe’s shot in the 18th minute.

Inter’s Ricardo Alvarez missed a chance just before halftime when he shot wide after getting behind the defense. Vertonghen closed the scoring in the 53rd minute with a firm header off Bale’s corner kick.

‘Difficult Place’

“It was a great European night but unfortunately we’re not there yet,” Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas, who led Porto to the 2011 Europa League title, told ITV. “We have to go there and it’s a difficult place to play.”

Tottenham, which won the competition in 1972 and 1984 when it was known as the UEFA Cup, is seeking to join Inter, Juventus and Liverpool as a three-time champion.

In Bucharest, Steaua took the lead against Chelsea in the 34th minute as Rusescu scored from the penalty spot after being pulled down by Ryan Bertrand. Blues interim manager Rafael Benitez disagreed with the call from referee Sergei Karasev.

“It was a soft penalty,” Benitez said in comments on Chelsea’s website. “In these kind of games and competitions if you don’t score away it’s more difficult. We are disappointed but we still have the belief that we can win at home.”

Chelsea is playing in the Europa League after being eliminated from the elite Champions League, which it won in May.

Home Run

In Moscow, Anzhi Makhachkala extended its unbeaten run in home matches with a scoreless draw against Newcastle. Anzhi won its first seven home games after starting the competition in the second qualifying round, allowing just one goal.

The game featured just four shots on target, with Samuel Eto’o twice denied by Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot, who replaced the injured Tim Krul. Newcastle’s best chance came from Hatem Ben Arfa, who was then played in on goal in the second half only to have his chip saved by Vladimir Gabulov.

Ederson and Ogenyi Onazi scored in Lazio’s victory against Stuttgart in Germany, while Pierre Webo’s 81st-minute goal sealed Fenerbahce’s win at Viktoria Plzen in the Czech Republic.

Marcelo Diaz and Alexander Frei scored in Basel’s home win against 2008 champion Zenit St. Petersburg and Benfica beat Bordeaux as Rodrigo’s shot hit the crossbar and deflected in off the back of goalkeeper Cedric Carrasso for a 21st-minute own goal. Levante and Rubin Kazan each had a man sent off as they played out a scoreless draw in Spain.

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