Benfica 0-2 Inter: Barella and Lukaku hand Nerazzurri first-leg advantage
Inter beat Benfica for the third time in four European meetings to give them a vital two-goal lead ahead of the second leg on April 19.FotMob - 5 months ago
Nicolo Barella and Romelu Lukaku scored as Inter earned a 2-0 victory at Benfica in their Champions League quarter-final first leg on Tuesday.
In a tense affair at the Estadio da Luz, both teams found it hard to create opportunities, though the hosts shaded the first half as they pressed to get their noses in front on home soil.
But a rare moment of attacking quality from Barella put Inter ahead, before substitute Lukaku scored from the spot to clinch the win for the Serie A side.
Simone Inzaghi's men are now very much in control heading into the second leg, set to be played at San Siro next Wednesday.
The first half was a cagey affair with clear-cut chances few and far between, though Rafa Silva nearly punished a mistake when he saw a blasted effort denied by Andre Onana after pouncing upon Federico Dimarco's loose header.
Francesco Acerbi also sent a fierce drive from range just over the crossbar as the game went into the interval goalless, with Inter managing just two touches in Benfica's box in the first half.
But the visitors would take the lead in the 51st minute with their first shot on target, Barella's delightful back-post header nestling in the bottom corner after Alessandro Bastoni's cross picked him out.
The hosts nearly levelled when Rafa saw a shot blocked before an almighty goalmouth scramble ended with Inter finally clearing.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan could, and perhaps should, have doubled his side's advantage after he was played in by Joaquin Correa, but his shot from a tight angle was well saved by Odisseas Vlachodimos.
Inter would add a second goal before the end, though, as Lukaku lashed home a penalty after Joao Mario handled Denzel Dumfries' cross to leave the Portuguese side up against it if they are to reach the semi-finals.
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Inzaghi's men had not won in six prior to this, and they looked very much the out-of-form team in the opening 45 minutes as Benfica held them to just two shots, neither of which hit the target.
But the Serie A side came out firing in the second half, creating five big chances and taking two of them to put themselves in the driver's seat as they bid to win this competition for a fourth time.
Lukaku continues fine form
Lukaku has not enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career, but he came on to great effect here to score what could be a vital second goal and make it six in his last six matches in all competitions for club and country.
Vlachodimos guessed the right way for his penalty, but the power on it meant it flew past him anyway, and the Belgium international has now scored 16 times in his last 17 appearances in major European competitions for Inter, including nine in his last 11 Champions League games for the Italian side.
Profligate Benfica forwards made to pay
The hosts actually managed three more shots than Inter, but only hit the target on two occasions to the visitors' four as their much more ruthless opponents took advantage.
Goncalo Ramos and Rafa combined for 0.9 xG (expected goals) in Benfica's total of 1.67, but neither could finish their opportunities and it means their side face a real uphill battle if they are to progress.
Key Opta Facts:
- Benfica remain without a victory against Inter in European competition, drawing one and losing three.
- Inter are now unbeaten in their last four knockout stage games in the Champions League (W3 D1), not shipping a goal in any of those. They have registered four consecutive clean sheets in the knockout stages of the competition for the first time.
- Benfica have conceded in four consecutive home games in European competition (including qualifiers) for the first time since April 2011 (a run of six).
- The Portuguese side conceded their third penalty goal in this season's Champions League, the joint-most of any side in the competition, level with Dinamo Zagreb.
- Barella scored for the first time in his last 23 games in all competitions for Inter, since netting against Sampdoria in Serie A in October, with this his 18th goal for the club in all competitions and the first header.
Both teams are in league action next, with Benfica travelling to Chaves on Saturday while Inter host Monza the same day. The second leg will then take place next Wednesday.