Perhaps it was all part of Gareth Bale's cunning plan to miss from six yards out.
At that stage this match was scoreless but just after he had demonstrated a glimpse of fallibility he proceeded to score with the first of two sublime free-kicks that send Tottenham to Lyon next week with a crucial advantage.
The superlatives are beginning to run out for a player who has been in scintillating form this year. Without Bale Spurs are a competent side but there is no doubt they would have struggled to emerge triumphant had he not been on the pitch. His 35-yard strike in first-half injury time was a remarkable effort but it was swiftly cancelled out by an equally fine goal from the Lyon left-back, Samuel Umtiti, shortly after half-time.
There was an air of expectancy hanging over White Hart Lane when Bale, in the dying seconds of the game, then stood over another free-kick, this time 25 yards from goal. But in the end there was no great surprise when he curled it past Rémy Vercoutre for the winner. The Tottenham manager, André Villas-Boas, was pleased with the performance and, despite his side's lead, said they would attack during the second leg at Stade de Gerland. "We are a team that normally scores away from home so we hope to cancel their away goal," he said. "We're going to set up in the same way to try to attack and score."
For Lyon this has been a first season for 13 years not competing in the Champions League. However, the French side, managed by the former Arsenal defender Rémi Garde, were backed by a vociferous travelling support in north London and had not previously lost a match in the competition this season.
Spurs dominated possession in the early exchanges but could not create a scoring opportunity. Kyle Walker was exploiting the space down Lyon's left flank and the full-back lifted a deep cross to the far post where Bale struck a volley but he could not make decisive contact. Lyon had an excellent case for a penalty in the 14th minute. Their lone striker, Bafétimbi Gomis, cut inside Jan Vertonghen in the area before having his legs taken away by the defender but the Portuguese referee was, surprisingly, not convinced of any contact.
Brad Friedel, returning to the Tottenham side as the former Lyon goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was rested on the bench, had to be alert to scoop up a header from the centre-back Dejan Lovren following a deep corner but it was Spurs who were crafting the scoring chances. Emmanuel Adebayor, making his first start since returning late from the Africa Cup of Nations, beat the offside trap and was picked out by a wonderful through-ball from Moussa Dembélé but crashed his low shot wide of Vercoutre's goal and into the advertising hoardings.
Bale then demonstrated that everything he touches with his left boot does not always turn to gold. Walker, again rampaging forward down the right, cut inside the area and played the ball back across goal, only for Bale to miss the target from the edge of the six-yard box. The Welshman soon reminded us what he is capable of, though. Dembélé was cut down in a seemingly innocuous position inside the Lyon half, 35 yards out and in a central area. Innocuous, perhaps, if anyone other than Bale was preparing to strike the free-kick but, not shying away after his earlier miss, he drilled the shot majestically into Vercoutre's bottom corner with the goalkeeper struggling to fathom how he had achieved it.
Lyon equalised in spectacular fashion. William Gallas did well to head away following a cross from the right flank in the 55th minute but could not have expected the left-back Umtiti to rifle the ball into the top corner from the left edge of the box. Garde's side were invigorated by the goal and soon took charge of the game as they searched for a potentially decisive second away goal. Lacazette danced his way past three Spurs players before unleashing a drive from the edge of the penalty area, which was brilliantly tipped over by Friedel.
Neither side could create further clear-cut opportunities until Spurs were awarded a free-kick 25 yards out in injury time and Bale dispatched it past Vercoutre to end the match with the third spectacular goal of the night. There were scuffles between the two benches after the final whistle but both managers played the altercation down. Garde said: "We've lost the first set but the main thing is we've come away here with an away goal and we've got the second leg to come. I think it's quite a harsh result and not what we deserved but it's half time."
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