Unfortunately for Spurs, they were a man down by that stage and conceded a fourth goal 10 minutes before half-time - a deficit that proved too much even for Harry Redknapp's cavaliers to claw back.
The Tottenham boss should shoulder some of the blame for starting with an attacking line-up against the European champions but that would take a lot away from a devastating 45 minutes of mesmeric football from Inter.
Under former coach Jose Mourinho, Inter often played with an emphasis on defence but memories of a more negative style were banished inside the first quarter of the match.
Rafael Benitez, occasionally blamed for his team selection at Liverpool, sent out a bold line-up that included young crowd-pleasers Coutinho and Biabiany.
Both gave Spurs a headache in the first half but it was veteran Argentine Zanetti who got the Inter ball rolling in the second minute.
The 37-year-old captain finished off a superb Inter move involving Coutinho and Eto'o with a precision placement from 12 yards.
Tottenham were then floored with a left-right combination when Gomes was shown a straight red card for fouling Biabiany inside the area after Wesley Sneijder had played in a lovely ball from the left.
Eto'o stepped up to fire in from the spot as replacement keeper Carlo Cudicini, with Luka Modric sacrificed, stayed rooted.
There was barely enough time for the Spurs players to lift their heads off the floor when 32-year-old Stankovic rounded off another intricate move involving Eto'o with a side-foot finish from 18 yards.
Inter then embarrassed the Premier League side further when Coutinho played a through-ball to Eto'o, who poked in via a slight deflection off the boot of Cudicini.
It was noticeable that Inter moved down a couple of gears in the second half and, incredibly, that was almost to cost them victory.
Prior to Bale's opener, Peter Crouch wasted Tottenham's only chance of the match, when he headed over from four yards with the score at 3-0.
Bale then showed the striker the way.
The 21-year-old Wales international ran almost 50 yards down the left before firing an angled shot past Julio Cesar for a sensational first goal.
It remained 4-1 until the final two minutes, when Bale left veteran Zanetti trailing and scored an almost identical second.
And the winger kept alive what had seemed an impossible task when he was well positioned on the left of the area to rifle in his hat-trick.
But any hopes of recording one of the greatest results in Tottenham's history were scuppered by a stoppage-time allowance of only two minutes.
Despite the result, this match will be remembered by many for a very, very long time.
90:00+2:06 The final whistle is blown by the referee.
90:00+0:42 Assist on the goal came from Aaron Lennon.
90:00+0:42 GOAL - Gareth Bale:Inter Milan 4 - 3 Tottenham Goal scored by Gareth Bale from just inside the penalty area to the bottom right corner of the goal. Inter Milan 4-3 Tottenham.
89:23 GOAL - Gareth Bale:Inter Milan 4 - 2 Tottenham Gareth Bale finds the net with a goal from the edge of the area to the bottom right corner of the goal. Inter Milan 4-2 Tottenham.
88:33 Wilson Palacios gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Ferreira Lucio. Free kick taken by Wesley Sneijder.
88:33 Booking Wilson Palacios is booked.
87:07 Alan Hutton takes a shot from just outside the penalty area which clears the crossbar.
84:33 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Alan Hutton by Davide Santon. Free kick crossed left-footed by Gareth Bale from
right wing, save by Soares Julio Cesar.
82:45 Effort on goal by Phillippe Coutinho from outside the box goes harmlessly over the bar.
81:30 Foul by Sebastien Bassong on Ferreira Lucio, free kick awarded. Wesley Sneijder takes the free kick.
80:59 Gareth Bale takes the outswinging corner, clearance made by Ferreira Lucio.
79:31 Substitution Wilson Palacios is brought on as a substitute for Tom Huddlestone.
74:29 Substitution Ivan Ramiro Cordoba on for Jonathan Biabiany.
69:15 Corner taken by Wesley Sneijder from the right by-line played to the near post.
66:34 Substitution Robbie Keane replaces Peter Crouch.
62:12 Effort from the edge of the penalty area by Phillippe Coutinho goes wide of the left-hand post.
60:38 Substitution Goran Pandev comes on in place of Cristian Chivu.
59:04 Benoit Assou-Ekotto produces a left-footed shot from inside the area that goes over the bar.
54:36 Wesley Sneijder decides to take a short corner.
54:20 Davide Santon takes a shot. Carlo Cudicini makes a save.
53:33 Cristian Chivu is penalised for a handball. Alan Hutton takes the indirect free kick.
51:38 GOAL - Gareth Bale:Inter Milan 4 - 1 Tottenham Goal scored by Gareth Bale from the edge of the area to the bottom right corner of the goal. Inter Milan 4-1 Tottenham.
49:17 Substitution Davide Santon comes on in place of Dejan Stankovic.
46:19 The offside flag is raised against Samuel Eto'o. Indirect free kick taken by Carlo Cudicini.
45:01 The referee starts the second half.
45:00+0:58 The first half comes to an end.
45:00+0:17 Phillippe Coutinho has an effort at goal from deep inside the area missing to the left of the goal.
44:47 Tom Huddlestone gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Wesley Sneijder. Javier Zanetti takes the direct free kick.
43:06 Sisenando Maicon takes a shot. Save by Carlo Cudicini. Sisenando Maicon takes a shot. Carlo Cudicini makes a save.
42:10 Phillippe Coutinho takes a shot. Save made by Carlo Cudicini.
38:21 Gareth Bale fouled by Sisenando Maicon, the ref awards a free kick. Benoit Assou-Ekotto takes the direct free kick.
35:39 Foul by Sisenando Maicon on Gareth Bale, free kick awarded. Free kick crossed left-footed by Gareth Bale.
34:36 The assist for the goal came from Phillippe Coutinho.
34:36 GOAL - Samuel Eto'o:Inter Milan 4 - 0 Tottenham Samuel Eto'o scores a goal from inside the penalty area low into the middle of the goal. Inter Milan 4-0 Tottenham.
33:51 Wesley Sneijder takes a shot. Blocked by William Gallas.
32:31 Peter Crouch is penalised for a handball. Indirect free kick taken by Ferreira Lucio.
31:45 Walter Samuel challenges Peter Crouch unfairly and gives away a free kick. Aaron Lennon takes the direct free kick.
31:15 Unfair challenge on Phillippe Coutinho by Jermaine Jenas results in a free kick. Phillippe Coutinho restarts play with the
28:58 Unfair challenge on Ferreira Lucio by Peter Crouch results in a free kick. Ferreira Lucio restarts play with the free kick.
28:17 Tom Huddlestone challenges Javier Zanetti unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick taken by Sisenando Maicon.
27:05 The ball is swung over by Aaron Lennon, Header from deep inside the penalty area by Peter Crouch goes harmlessly over the
25:12 Foul by Jermaine Jenas on Phillippe Coutinho, free kick awarded. Direct strike on goal from the free kick comes in from Wesley
Sneijder. Dejan Stankovic takes a shot. Sebastien Bassong gets a block in.
24:26 Dejan Stankovic has an effort at goal. Save by Carlo Cudicini.
23:50 Outswinging corner taken by Wesley Sneijder.
22:10 Cristian Chivu gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Peter Crouch. Tom Huddlestone takes the free kick.
21:33 Effort on goal by Samuel Eto'o from just inside the penalty area goes over the target.
19:03 Outswinging corner taken by Gareth Bale from the left by-line, Sebastien Bassong challenges Walter Samuel unfairly and gives
away a free kick. Soares Julio Cesar takes the direct free kick.
18:07 Peter Crouch is ruled offside. Free kick taken by Soares Julio Cesar.
16:50 Cristian Chivu concedes a free kick for a foul on Aaron Lennon. Free kick crossed left-footed by Gareth Bale, clearance made
by Ferreira Lucio.
16:50 Booking Cristian Chivu receives a caution for unsporting behaviour.
15:47 Phillippe Coutinho takes a shot. Save by Carlo Cudicini.
13:11 Samuel Eto'o provided the assist for the goal.
13:11 GOAL - Dejan Stankovic:Inter Milan 3 - 0 Tottenham Dejan Stankovic fires in a goal from just outside the area to the bottom left corner of the goal. Inter Milan 3-0 Tottenham.
10:42 Penalty awarded for an unfair challenge on Jonathan Biabiany by Heurelho Gomes. Assist by Jonathan Biabiany.
10:42 GOAL - Samuel Eto'o:Inter Milan 2 - 0 Tottenham Penalty scored by Samuel Eto'o. Inter Milan 2-0 Tottenham.
7:06 Substitution Luka Modric leaves the field to be replaced by Carlo Cudicini.
7:06 Sent off Heurelho Gomes is sent off by the referee.
2:15 Free kick awarded for a foul by Dejan Stankovic on Tom Huddlestone. Tom Huddlestone takes the direct free kick.
1:06 Samuel Eto'o provided the assist for the goal.
1:06 GOAL - Javier Zanetti:Inter Milan 1 - 0 Tottenham Javier Zanetti scores a goal from inside the penalty area to the top right corner of the goal. Inter Milan 1-0 Tottenham.
0:00 The referee gets the game underway.
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