AC Milan made an impressive start to their European title defence with a convincing win against SL Benfica earned by first-half goals from Andrea Pirlo and Filippo Inzaghi and tempered only by Nuno Gomes's last-minute effort.
Pirlo the key
Pirlo's ninth-minute free-kick was no less than the artful playmaker deserved and he set the tone for a dominant Milan display. Pirlo then provided the assist for Inzaghi's 24th-minute strike which capped a superbly crafted team move. Nuno Gomes halved the deficit when he touched Konstantinos Katsouranis's cross over the line with the last kick of the game.
The hosts had almost taken an even earlier lead when Massimo Oddo delivered a deep cross from the right which Massimo Ambrosini side-footed wide. The breakthrough was not long in coming, however. Kaká was brought down 20 metres from goal and Pirlo curled the resulting free-kick into the top left-hand corner. When Oddo got the better of Léo again, he found Inzaghi with another pinpoint delivery which the Italy striker turned wide of the far post. Benfica were struggling to come to terms with the rampaging Rossoneri and almost conceded again on the quarter-hour – Pirlo's low centre found Ambrosini who, again, was off target.
Inzaghi was next to threaten, eliciting a reaction save from Quim after a passing combination crowned by Clarence Seedorf's deft feint. Benfica, finally, mustered a response. As the visitors gained confidence, Milan old boy Rui Costa tested Dida with a long-range shot. Cristián Rodríguez then tricked his way down the left and supplied Óscar Cardozo with a floating delivery which the unmarked forward headed against the post from point-blank range.
Inzaghi on target
Cardozo had reason to rue his profligacy. Within two minutes Kaká had run half the length of the field before finding Pirlo unmarked on the right edge of the area. Electing to check back, the midfielder picked out Inzaghi who drove in his 60th goal in UEFA club competition. The task was now a tall one for the Lisbon outfit. And though Cardozo warmed Dida's hands, Milan should have had a third before the break: Kaká missing his kick before Inzaghi nodded Marek Jankulovski's cross over.
Ten minutes after the restart Kaká prompted another stop from Quim, having outstripped the Benfica rearguard with another trademark counterattack, before Pirlo, conducting a midfield masterclass with his display of passing, vision and close control, launched another move that ended with Inzaghi turning the ball wide. The European champions were coming forward at will, with José Antonio Camacho's side powerless in the face of such mobility. Ambrosini, Jankulovski and Inzaghi sent further efforts over the bar.
On 75 minutes Kaká played a delightful pass through the legs of Maxi Pereira which Jankulovski raced on to, crossing for Inzaghi whose attempt was kept out by Quim. The goalkeeper's subsequent save from Emerson's lob was also adept, as was Nuno Gomes's stoppage-time goal. The substitute stretched out a leg to slide in a left-wing centre from Katsouranis and claim a 92nd-minute consolation.