Second-half goals from Nicolò Barella and Romelu Lukaku gave Inter Milan the advantage in their Champions League quarter-final first leg at Benfica.
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Inter Milan kept Benfica at bay before a second-half header from Nicolò Barella and a late penalty converted by substitute Romelu Lukaku gave the Italian side a 2-0 lead after the UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg in Lisbon.
16': Onana beats out Rafa Silva strike
25': Acerbi fires just wide from distance
51': Barella heads in Bastoni cross
56': Dumfries' last-ditch block rescues Inter
66': Vlachodimos denies Mkhitaryan
82': Lukaku penalty after João Mário handles
Match in brief: Inter take control
Inter initially looked brighter, then found themselves indebted to André Onana when the goalkeeper made a masterful reflex save with his chest to keep out Rafa Silva's close-range strike.
The resolute visitors grew in confidence after that early scare, and their satisfaction with the scoreline at the break became joy when Nicolò Barella put them ahead with their first attempt on target, deftly heading in Alessandro Bastoni's searching cross.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan could have made it two for Simone Inzaghi's tightly-organised side, breaking clear on one of their judiciously-chosen raids forward but seeing his clipped finish kept out by the onrushing Odysseas Vlachodimos.
The goalkeeper produced another excellent save to stop a header from the unmarked Denzel Dumfries, only to be beaten again when Romelu Lukaku – on as part of a triple substitution shortly after Inter's opener – fired in a precise penalty after João Mário had been penalised for handball.
There was still time for a final burst of heroism from Onana, thwarting Gonçalo Ramos with the last touch of the game, to ensure Inter return to Milan with the tie in their grasp.
PlayStation® Player of the Match: Alessandro Bastoni (Inter)
He defended well when necessary, stepped forward into midfield when asked, was efficient in his passing and didn't give the ball away. It was a great cross for the goal and another delivery led to the penalty.
UEFA Technical Observer panel
Carlos Machado, Benfica reporter
Benfica lost for the first time in the Champions League this season in a game in which they managed to impose themselves but Inter then scored with their first shot on goal. The Eagles struggled to pressure their Italian visitors, who always looked comfortable. Lukaku's goal was a huge blow for Benfica on a perfect night for Inter and left them with a mountain to climb at San Siro.
Paolo Menicucci, Inter reporter
After keeping two clean sheets against Porto, Inter earned a third in a row in the competition. This time the Nerazzurri also scored twice as part of a very convincing performance. Inzaghi's men were perfectly organised, took few risks in defence and were lethal in attack, with Barella opening the scoring to crown a great performance in midfield. Inter are now in the driving seat to reach an all-Italian semi-final.
Roger Schmidt, Benfica coach: "In a brief analysis, they were better than us. With few opportunities, they scored two goals; we had the same level of opportunities and couldn't score. It's the story of the game and it's part of football: sometimes we lose games."
António Silva, Benfica defender: "It was not a typical game and it's an unfair result. The first half was even and the goals dictated what the second half was like. They ended up scoring twice in a similar same way [via crosses]. We were prepared for the full-backs to target the back post, but Inter have quality players."
Fredrik Aursnes, Benfica midfielder: "It was a balanced game and we had chances to score. Inter are a good team. They also had their moments and ended up scoring two goals. We have to believe that we can turn it around in Italy and score three goals there. Let's do everything possible to get it. We have a good mentality and a fantastic team spirit. We play against good teams but we have to believe in ourselves."
Simone Inzaghi, Inter coach: "I had hope ahead of the game because the team played well and always created plenty of chances recently, even when we were not winning. The lads played a great game against a very strong side and in a difficult stadium with a great atmosphere. However, we know that this is just the first round because Benfica have shown that they can play great games everywhere this season. We will need another great performance to reach the semi-finals."
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Inter midfielder: "We were very intelligent and we know how to play these kind of games. We came here to win, we fought hard and we helped each other in every part of the pitch. Now we have to enjoy this victory but we know we need another great game to reach the semi-finals."
André Onana, Inter goalkeeper: "Benfica are a great side but I said that we had to come here and play without fear because we could win. We did just that. 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."
Joe Cole, BT Sport
Benfica will be frustrated and annoyed. This can happen to young players when they step up a level but they've got another chance to put it right – and if they're the top players we think they are, they'll make a game of it. They have enough quality to give Inter trouble.
- This was only Inter's second win in their 11 UEFA away matches against Portuguese opponents (D5 L4).
- Inzaghi's team have kept six clean sheets in their last eight Champions League fixtures.
- Inter had failed to score in five of their previous six games in Portugal.
- Benfica failed to find the net for the first time in 18 European matches.
- The Eagles have not won any of their last 11 Champions League quarter-final matches, losing seven.
Alessandro Bastoni – 12
Francesco Acerbi – 8
Nicolò Barella – 8
Matteo Darmian – 8
Benfica: Vlachodimos; Gilberto, António Silva, Morato, Grimaldo; Chiquinho, Florentino (Neres 67); João Mário, Rafa Silva, Aursnes; Gonçalo Ramos
Inter: Onana; Darmian, Acerbi, Bastoni (De Vrij 90); Dumfries (D'Ambrosio 86), Barella, Brozović, Mkhitaryan, Dimarco (Gosens 63); Martínez (Correa 63), Džeko (Lukaku 63)
The second leg takes place in Milan on Wednesday 19 April. The aggregate winners play Milan or Napoli in the semi-finals on Tuesday/Wednesday 9/10 and Tuesday/Wednesday 16/17 May, playing the first leg away.