Inter continued a train of strong Italian performance in the Champions League with a confident win on the road against Benfica. A dominating defensive display was enough to diminish one of the higher-scoring teams in this season’s Champions League. Benfica, with 23 goals scored through eight games in this season’s competition, suffered its first shutout of the European season. It is just the third time this season in all competitions that Benfica failed to score.
That opened the door for Inter to score two goals, including a penalty late on, to take a significant lead back to Italy in the Champions League quarterfinals. The Nerazzurri, which has been on a spill in Serie A, now looks poised for another trip to the Champions League semifinals.
The first half of the tie, though, was quite tame. Neither side put together a true golden opportunity. Instead, both clubs tried to feel on another out. If anything, it was Benfica to have the better of the opportunities in the first half. Not long after the quarter of an hour mark, Rafa Silva rose for a header off a Álex Grimaldo cross. Silva got good power on the ball, but it was a fairly comfortable save for Andre Onana in the Inter net.
Italian opens the scoring
Where Inter was able to stop Benfica’s cross, the same was not true for Benfica defending Inter. Early in the second half, Alessandro Bastoni made a rapid run down the left side. He whipped a ball across Benfica’s goal, where Nicolò Barella rose up and headed the ball into the far corner of the goal. Inter took the lead over another Portuguese side after dispatching Porto in the previous round.
As the game progressed, Inter continued to push for a second. However, Benfica shot-stopper Odysseas Vlachodimos matched efforts from Mkhitaryan and Dumfries. Despite the Greek’s great efforts, he was near-helpless for Inter’s eventual second.
Denzel Dumfries attempted to lob a cross in, but it was blocked by Joao Mario on the edge of the box. Initially, center referee Michael Oliver made no call. But, upon VAR inspection, Mario handled the ball in his own penalty area. In stepped Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian, who caused a stir in Italy with a late penalty against Juventus to silence racist fans, slotted home against Benfica.
Inter with clear advantage over Benfica in Champions League
The second goalis the insurance Inter not only desired, but could very well need. This is Benfica’s first loss in the UEFA Champions League this season. The club’s road form has been nothing short of fantastic, with 16 goals in six games on the road in the Champions League this season.
For the Italians, it is a third-straight UCL game without conceding. Seeing out this tie would mean a first trip to the UEFA Champions League semifinals since the 2009/10 season, when the club won the treble.
PHOTO: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire
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