Saturday, June 22, 2024

Inter Milan close in on Champions League semis with solid win at Benfica

Inter Milan close
Benfica's Brazilian defender Gilberto Moraes Junior (C) vies with Inter Milan's Argentinian forward Joaquin Correa (R) during the UEFA Champions League quarter final first leg football match between SL Benfica and Inter Milan at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on April 11, 2023. PHOTO | AFP

LISBON, April 12: Inter Milan put one foot into the Champions League semi-finals with a comfortable 2-0 win at Benfica on Tuesday, with Nicolo Barella and Romelu Lukaku netting in Lisbon.
The Italians, three-time winners, took a commanding quarter-final first leg lead at the Estadio da Luz, inflicting Benfica’s first defeat in the competition.
After an even first half, Barella headed home from Alessandro Bastoni’s cross and substitute Romelu Lukaku netted the second from the penalty spot late on.
Roger Schmidt’s Benfica, aiming to reach the semi-finals for the first time since 1990, were not able to put a glove on the visitors, who controlled the pace of the game.
Despite Inter’s poor form, they conjured a patient, professional display when they needed it most.
Having scored two goals in their previous five games across all competitions, they managed the same tally in Lisbon with clinical finishing.
“It’s been one of our best games this season,” Inter midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan told British broadcaster BT Sport.
“We were dominating all over the pitch. We were doubling up and were everywhere, helping each other and we got (rewarded) for it. We’ve done a great job.
“But it’s still not over, we still have to face them in a week and we know it’s not going to be easy.”
Neither side was able to create clear chances in a tight opening period.
The closest Benfica came was Andre Onana blocking a Rafa Silva drive after Federico Dimarco accidentally headed the ball into his path in the box.
Inter Milan defender Francesco Acerbi hammered over from 30 yards at the other end.
The Italians had the opportunity to hit the hosts on the break after half an hour, but Lautaro Martinez played a poor pass which was blocked, with 37-year-old target man Edin Dzeko alone in space.
Alex Grimaldo smashed an effort wide from distance, with Benfica frustrated and unable to get striker Goncalo Ramos involved.
With Inter pressing high up the pitch, the Eagles could not hit their flowing best, or anything close to it.
Inter Milan broke the deadlock early in the second half when Barella headed Bastoni’s looping cross back across goal and into the bottom corner.
The goal crowned a superb performance from the Italy international, while Inter’s defence kept a sixth clean sheet in nine Champions League matches this season.
Schmidt sent on David Neres for midfielder Florentino in search of the equaliser, but Inter doubled their lead with eight minutes remaining.
Joao Mario, one of Benfica’s best players this season, handled Denzel Dumfries’s cross, gifting his former side a penalty.
Lukaku drilled it beyond the reach of Greek goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos, answering some criticism of his recent form.
Coach Simone Inzaghi had selected Dzeko ahead of Lukaku after the Belgian had missed gilt-edged chances in recent weeks, but he did not miss in a high-pressure moment.
Benfica might have pulled a goal back deep in stoppage time but Onana made a fine save to deny Ramos, who seemed poised to score.
“I said that we had to come here and play without fear because we could win — we did just that,” Onana told UEFA.
“But we cannot think that we are already in the semi-final because we are not. We still need another great game like today’s next week.”
The victory gives Inter a fine chance of setting up an all-Italian semi-final against Serie A leaders Napoli or city rivals AC Milan.
Inter, who beat another Portuguese side, Porto, in the last 16, host Benfica on Wednesday April 19 at the San Siro in the second leg.
Benfica defender Antonio Silva said he believes his team can go to Milan and score three to produce a comeback.
“We deserved more and we had the opportunity for it, the fair result was a draw,” Silva told Portuguese broadcaster Eleven.
“This is the first part of the tie. We are going to do everything we can in Milan and we have to score at least three goals to win and go through.”
Manchester City thrash Bayern Munich 3-0 as Erling Haaland reaches another milestone
Rodri struck a wonder goal and Erling Haaland set another scoring record as Manchester City beat Bayern Munich 3-0 on Tuesday in their quarter-final first leg to continue their quest for a first-ever Champions League title.
Haaland, who scored City’s third goal of the night in the 76th minute, has 45 goals in all competitions, a single-season record for a Premier League player, moving ahead of Mo Salah and Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Rodri put Pep Guardiola’s team ahead in the 27th minute, cutting the ball back to beat midfielder Jamal Musiala and curling a blistering long-range shot into the top left corner beyond the outstretched hand of Yann Sommer.
“I know that this Bayern team is special,” said Guardiola, who managed Bayern from 2013-16. “We got a good result, but we need two strong games. Anything can happen at Allianz Arena. I know that because I was at Bayern for three years.”
Rodri celebrated with a long knee slide on the rain-soaked turf at the Etihad, while Bayern’s new manager Thomas Tuchel threw up his hands in disgust en route to his team’s biggest defeat in the Champions League since a 3-0 loss to Paris St Germain in 2017.
“It was very special for me to score my first goal in the Champions League. At that moment we were struggling because they are a great, great team,” Rodri told BT Sport.
“Sometimes we understand we cannot have 80% possession. They play too. We scored three and could score four but it is a great result.”
What had been an evenly matched game turned thoroughly in City’s favour midway through the second half, and Bernardo Silva scored their second in the 70th minute, heading in a cross from Haaland. The Norwegian got a goal of his own six minutes later, striking from close range.
“This never happens to Bayern Munich but credit to Manchester City, they were brilliant in both boxes,” former Bayern player Owen Hargreaves said on BT Sport. “Pep had a game plan and it worked beautifully.”
Sommer had a busy night and was pressed into action early, almost gifting Haaland a goal in the 14th minute. Taking too long to clear the ball, the striker bulldozed in and got his foot on the ball two yards from the net, but it flew wide.
City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan had a brilliant chance in the 34th minute, but Sommer, who was on the ground, stuck a leg out to save what looked like a certain goal.
Ruben Dias’s flick in the second half looked bound for the net, but Sommer tipped it over the crossbar. However, he was helpless to stop Silva and then Haaland from completing the win.
Guardiola faced a familiar foe in Tuchel, who was Chelsea manager when they triumphed over City in the final in 2021.
The Spaniard has won four Premier League titles, one FA Cup and four League Cups at City but European success has eluded the manager who won the trophy twice when in charge of Barcelona.
His confidence will be high that he can end that drought ahead of the second leg, which takes place on April 19 at Munich’s Allianz Arena.
“We don’t think it is done. They are a good team and we are happy with the performance but we will have to try to win the game,” Rodri added. (AFP/Agencies)