Inter Milan took a step closer to the Champions League semi-finals with a 2-0 win over Benfica in the first leg of their quarter-final tie on Tuesday.
The game played at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, was a tense and cagey affair, with clear-cut chances at a premium for both sides.
Benfica started the game brightly, dominating possession and pressing to take the lead on their home soil. They almost found the breakthrough when Rafa Silva pounced on a loose header from Federico Dimarco and saw his shot denied by Andre Onana. Inter, meanwhile, struggled to get a foothold in the game, managing just two touches in Benfica’s box in the first half.
The hosts continued to press in the second half, but it was Inter who struck first with their first shot on target in the 51st minute. Alessandro Bastoni’s cross picked out Nicolo Barella at the back post, and the midfielder’s delightful header found the bottom corner to put the Italian side ahead.
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Benfica responded well, with Rafa seeing a shot blocked and a subsequent goalmouth scramble nearly resulting in an equaliser. But it was Inter who had the better of the chances, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan coming close to doubling their lead after being played in by Joaquin Correa. Mkhitaryan’s shot from a tight angle was well saved by Odisseas Vlachodimos.
Inter had to wait until late in the game to seal the victory, with substitute Romelu Lukaku scoring from the penalty spot in the 87th minute.
Joao Mario was adjudged to have handled Denzel Dumfries’ cross, and Lukaku made no mistake with his spot-kick, lashing the ball home to give Inter a 2-0 lead.
The win puts Simone Inzaghi’s side in a commanding position heading into the second leg at San Siro next Wednesday. Despite Benfica’s best efforts, they were ultimately undone by Inter’s clinical finishing, with Barella and Lukaku providing the decisive moments of quality.
For Inter, it was a welcome return to form after a recent dip in domestic form. The Italian champions have struggled in Serie A in recent weeks, slipping to third in the table, but they looked solid and composed in Lisbon, and will be confident of securing a place in the last four of Europe’s premier club competition.