Inter advances past Benfica, sets up Milan semifinal in CL
MILAN (AP) — The Milan clubs are set to meet again in another Champions League semifinal a decade after their last encounter in the final four of Europe's elite club competition.
Inter Milan drew 3-3 against Benfica on Wednesday to complete a 5-3 aggregate victory over the Portuguese team. That came a day after AC Milan prevailed against Napoli in their quarterfinal.
After Nicolò Barella’s opener for Inter, Fredrik Aursnes restored some hope for Benfica shortly before halftime. But Lautaro Martínez and substitute Joaquín Correa netted in the second half to help Inter reach its first semifinal since José Mourinho led it to the treble of the Champions League, Serie A and Italian Cup in 2010.
Inter nevertheless managed to relinquish a two-goal lead as António Silva and Petar Musa netted late on for Benfica.
“Obviously I am happy, and I am happy for the boys because it is an important and historic achievement,” Inter coach Simone Inzaghi said. “We’ve come a long way, from a very, very difficult group.
“With regards to the goals, their forward did well on the second goal and on the third goal we heard a whistle and so several players stopped. Of course I would have wanted to have won 3-2 and I’m more disappointed for the boys but we were already through to the semifinal and there was that whistle that we heard on the bench too … we would have deserved the win.”
The Nerazzurri will face its city rival in a repeat of the 2003 semifinal. AC Milan won that on away goals and went on to beat Juventus in the final.
“It's a very special match, we know what it means to play a match of this sort,” Inter forward Martínez said. "Now we have to pick up points again in Serie A and then we'll think about the Champions League.
“I play this sport to win everything.”
Real Madrid will face Manchester City in the other semifinal after the English team drew 1-1 at Bayern Munich on Wednesday to advance 4-1 on aggregate.
Both Inter and Benfica came into the match at San Siro on a poor run of form.
Inter had only won one of its past eight matches in all competitions — the first leg in Lisbon — while Benfica had lost three straight matches for the first time since the 2018-19 season.
Inter had been criticized for not making the most of its numerous goalscoring opportunities — and had only scored two goals from open play in its past seven matches.
But the Nerazzurri took the lead with their very first chance, in the 14th minute, as Barella rode a tackle and played a one-two with Martínez before curling a delightful effort into the top left corner.
Benfica faced an uphill task and Inter was yet to concede in the knockout stage. The Nerazzurri had the ball in the back of the net again in the 33rd minute but it was disallowed for a slight nudge by Martínez on Gilberto.
Moments later, Barella did well to acrobatically clear a cross with Benfica top goalscorer Gonçalo Ramos lurking.
However, a defensive lapse saw Benfica get back into the quarterfinal seven minutes from the break as Aursnes got in front of Denzel Dumfries to head in Rafa Silva’s cross from the right.
Buoyed by that goal, Benfica continued to press but it was Inter that scored in the 65th minute, to all but put the outcome beyond doubt.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan cut a pass in from the left to Federico Dimarco, who crossed for the easiest of finishes as Martínez prodded it into the roof of the net from point-blank range.
And Correa capped a brilliant night for Inter by curling in off the right post two minutes after coming off the bench.
António Silva headed in a free kick for the visitors with four minutes remaining to add some respectability to the scoreline, before Musa drilled through a sea of legs in stoppage time to at least end Benfica's losing run.
“We are disappointed because I think at the start we showed that we still believed we could reach the semifinal,” Benfica coach Roger Schmidt said. “We started very well but after the first goal it was difficult because that makes everything even more difficult.
“I think our team showed a very good attitude today, very good focus and very good mentality … we tried to push in the second half but then we conceded a goal and I think we were also not very lucky with the decisions.”
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