On a day that produced two extraordinarily interesting games and 11 delicious goals — one of them altogether spectacular — two teams were left clinging to the European Champions League cliff edge Tuesday.
That one of the teams on the verge of quarterfinal elimination is Tottenham Hotspur was not altogether surprising. It was playing nine-time champion Real Madrid in Spain and was comprehensively dismantled, losing, 4-0.
That the other team staring at being knocked out is Inter Milan was almost unthinkable, especially because the Italian club is the defending champion and was at playing at home.
But Germany's Schalke '04 shrugged off any inferiority complex just as it shrugged off a preposterous goal by Inter Milan's Dejan Stankovic after only 25 seconds, and twice came from behind before prevailing, 5-2.
Inter Milan already was battered by a 3-0 Serie A loss to rival AC Milan on Saturday that virtually scuttled its Italian title chances. It surrendered almost meekly Tuesday at a Giuseppe Meazza Stadium that emptied its disbelieving fans onto the Milan streets a little quicker with each successive goal by the Bundesliga team.
By the final whistle, Inter Milan was faced with having to win, 4-0, when they play Schalke '04 again in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals in Germany next week.
Tottenham Hotspur will have to do the same against Real Madrid in London simply to get back on level terms.
The prospects for either are slim to none.
The Real Madrid match was virtually settled in the first quarter of an hour as Spurs self-destructed. Tottenham had to pull influential winger Aaron Lennon out of the starting lineup at the last instant because of illness, and the London club looked nervous from the start.
The Spanish side took the lead in the fifth minute when Emmanuel Adebayor scored the first of his two headed goals, this one off a corner kick.
A couple of clumsy and unnecessary tackles by Tottenham's Peter Crouch earned him two quick yellow cards and expulsion in the 15th minute. That was all she wrote for Spurs.
Adebayor scored his second goal 12 minutes into the second half and Real then added goals by Angel Di Maria after 72 minutes and — inevitably — Cristiano Ronaldo three minutes before the end. It was a rout, plain and simple.
Real Madrid had a massive 25-4 edge in shots, including an 11-1 advantage in shots on target as the Spanish team maintained two-thirds of the possession against short-handed Tottenham and dictated the game almost at will
"At this level it is very difficult for a team to play for so long with 10 men," said Real Madrid Coach Jose Mourinho.
"I have complete sympathy for [Tottenham Coach Harry] Redknapp. I have experience of playing with 10 men in the Champions League. If you have an advantage you defend, but when you are losing it is an impossible job."
"It was a difficult night," he said. "We lost Aaron Lennon as the team walked on; he was not well enough to play. Then we go down to 10 men. You need a miracle to play here with 10 men. It was an uphill and impossible task. In the first half we played fantastically with 10 men but we ran out of legs.
"It's not over until it's over, but we've got a mountain to climb."
So does Inter Milan, but the club will at least leave the competition — assuming it does so — knowing that it provided the tournament's most spectacular goal.
It came in the first minute when Inter's Diego Milito raced to reach a ball sent toward the penalty area by teammate Esteban Cambiasso.
Alert to the danger, Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer sprinted out of his area to head the ball powerfully away with a diving header. The ball reached the center circle where Stankovic, only a couple of yards from the halfway line, hit it on the volley. His extraordinary shot sailed over everyone, including Neuer, who was scrambling back toward the net, and went in.
It was a highlight-reel moment for the Champions League ages, but Inter's lead and its evening went to pieces after that.
Joel Matip tied it up for Schalke and Milito restored Inter's advantage before Edu again leveled matters at 2-2 going into the locker room at halftime.
The second half provided nothing but misery for Inter. It fell behind on Raul's goal, went further behind when defender Andrea Ranocchia deflected a cross into his own net to make it 4-2 in Schalke's favor, and was ultimately embarrassed when Edu scored his second and Schalke's fifth.
Defender Cristian Chivu's second yellow card and ejection left Inter with only 10 men on the field for the latter stages but the game was long lost by then.
"It is surely the best game of my career," said Schalke Coach Ralf Rangnick. "Had someone told us before the match that we would beat Inter by three goals, we would have had him declared crazy."
Leonardo, Inter's stunned coach, was left searching for an explanation.
"It has been a very difficult week," he said. "First the derby knockout [by AC Milan], now this heavy defeat against Schalke.
"It's difficult to think about mounting a recovery in the second leg, but we'll try to capture the best possible result. Unfortunately, the crucial period of the season has come at the wrong time for us."
Champions League quarterfinals continue Wednesday when Barcelona is at home to Shakhtar Donetsk and Chelsea is at home to Manchester United.