Thuram scores to help Inter beat Benfica and go joint top of Champions League group
MILAN (AP) — Marcus Thuram made his mark in the Champions League to help Inter Milan get its campaign up-and-running with a 1-0 win over Benfica on Tuesday.
Thuram scored in the 62nd minute for his first goal in the competition for the Nerazzurri. He has two goals and six assists in Serie A in a fantastic start at Inter for the 26-year-old player, who is the son of former Parma and Juventus defender Lilian Thuram.
The goal came shortly after Inter's top scorer Lautaro Martínez hit the woodwork twice in the space of six minutes.
Martínez, who had a number of other chances in a dominant second half for Inter, was also instrumental in the goal as he drew defenders away to leave Thuram relatively unmarked.
“It's not down to me because I scored, it's down to the whole team,” Thuram said. "Today I scored a goal but anyone could have scored, it's not important.
“Lautaro is one of the best forwards in the world, I'm learning how to play with him and he with me.”
The result lifted Inter — last season’s runner-up — level on points with Group D leader Real Sociedad, which won 2-0 at Salzburg.
“We played with a really incredible intensity in the second half," Inter coach Simone Inzaghi said. “We really deserved this victory.”
Benfica now faces an uphill struggle to qualify for the knockout stages as it is bottom of the group with zero points and zero goals from two matches.
“We have to get points now, we have to score goals. The good thing is I think we still have it in our own hands," Benfica coach Roger Schmidt said.
“Of course the next matches are very important, very decisive, each single one is a final with us and we start with the match at home against Real Sociedad.”
Both Inter Milan and Benfica have had strong starts to their domestic seasons but had been expected to do better in their Champions League openers last month. Inter needed a last-minute equalizer from Martínez to snatch a 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad, while Benfica lost 2-0 at home to Salzburg after playing almost the entire match with 10 men.
Tuesday's match was a repeat of last season's quarterfinal, which Inter won 5-3 on aggregate.
There were chances for both teams in an open first half. Denzel Dumfries headed over the bar from close range early on and also fired over from a tight angle.
But the best opportunity fell to Benfica in the 13th minute when Inter was caught out by a quick throw-in and the ball came to Fredrik Aursnes, who drew a good one-handed save from Yann Sommer. Ángel Di María clipped the crossbar straight from the resulting corner.
Inter almost took the lead on the stroke of halftime as Nicolò Barella cut inside the edge of the area and unleashed a fine strike that was palmed away by Benfica goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin, who the Nerrazzurri had been interested in signing during the offseason.
Inter looked brighter after the break and, after a period of sustained pressure, should have broken the deadlock in the 53rd minute but Dumfries' header flashed across the face of goal and past the left upright.
The home side went even closer when Martínez’s volley cannoned off the crossbar and the Argentine World Cup winner struck the frame of the goal again shortly afterward, with his effort coming off the left upright.
Inter was getting closer and made the breakthrough less than a minute later. Dumfries sprang the offside trap to run onto a through ball from Barella and cut it back for Thuram to sweep confidently past Trubin.
Inter thought it had doubled its lead three minutes later but Federico Dimarco’s strike was ruled out for offside.
Martínez had several other chances to extend Inter’s advantage but it did not seem to be the forward’s night as he was denied by Benfica defender Nicolás Otamendi and Trubin in quick succession and also had a late attempt stopped by another fine save from the goalkeeper.
Martínez had come off the bench at the weekend to score four goals to take his tally to 10 in all competitions this season — in just eight matches.
“I think it was a deserved win for Inter because they created more chances,” Schmidt said. “Trubin kept us in the game and we tried everything in the end, but we have to accept that we lost.”
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