Inter knocks Benfica out of Champions League and now meets city rival Milan
The Champions League gets an Italian semifinal, between city rivals AC Milan and Internazionale. While AC Milan advanced a round at the expense of Napoli on Tuesday, Inter eliminated Benfica on Wednesday night.
It means ‘the Nerazzurri’ are among Europe’s top four for the first time since the 2009/10 season. Back then, Inter, with standout Wesley Sneijder and coach José Mourinho, eventually took the cup by beating Louis van Gaal’s Bayern Munich in the final.
Inter quickly in a seat
Where last week’s victory had provided a fine starting position, Inter seemed to quickly hand out the knockout at their own stadium. Within 15 minutes, the team, with Oranje international Denzel Dumfries as a base player, took the lead.
That goal came courtesy of Nicolò Barella. The Italian midfielder, in collaboration with teammate Lautaro Martínez, cut through the Portuguese defense and put himself in scoring position by fending off two opponents. He then chased the ball into the far top corner.
For a long time this season, Benfica was doing well. The team of former PSV coach Roger Schmidt remained unbeaten until the winter break, finished above Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus in the group stage of the Champions League, eliminated Club Brugge in the eighth finals and is the leader in Portugal.
In recent weeks, however, there has been sand in the engine. Besides the home defeat against Inter, they also lost twice in the league. As a result, the lead over FC Porto, the number two in Portugal, has shrunk to four points.
Aursnes brings glimmer of hope
In Milan, despite the early setback, Benfica nevertheless showed at times why it was running so smoothly until recently. The Portuguese combined nicely at times, but for a long time failed to find an opening.
Shortly before halftime, they succeeded. Rafa Silva was given time to lay on, saw space with Fredrik Aursnes and produced a cool cross. With a fine header, former Feyenoord player Aursnes then made sure it was 1-1 at the halfway point.
That was also because a goal by Martínez moments before had failed to go through. The Argentine striker shot, but because he had pushed his direct opponent in the back the goal was cancelled.
Inter finishes it off
Where neutral spectators were looking forward to an exciting second half, in which perhaps a miraculous Portuguese resurrection was possible, Benfica failed to actually make a fist anymore.
Instead, Inter soon threw the two-goal lead into the lock. After a smoothly running attack, Martínez signed for the 2-1 from close range on a pass from Federico Dimarco.
Soon after, Martínez’s compatriot Joaquín Correa claimed another leading role. The Argentine substitute outplayed his opponents, sent the ball with a beautiful curve to far corner and scored via the inside of the post.
As the Italian fans were already looking forward to the upcoming meeting with arch-rival AC Milan and Inter’s concentration may have slackened somewhat, Benfica still managed to salvage a draw. António Silva and Petar Musa scored in the closing stages, but could not prevent elimination.