Inter set up all-Italian Champions League semi with AC Milan
Inter Milan set up a blockbuster derby in the Champions League semi-finals on Wednesday after a 3-3 draw with Benfica saw the Italians through 5-3 on aggregate.
Simone Inzaghi’s side will face local rivals AC Milan in the last four thanks to goals from Nicolo Barella, Lautaro Martinez and Joaquin Correa which ensured straight-forward qualification.
Both Milan giants are trying to become the first Serie A side to win Europe’s top club competition since Inter last lifted the trophy in 2010.
“It was a big night for everyone at the club, and we deserved to go through over the course of the two legs,”
“The players were incredible over the two matches. Getting to the semi-finals is a dream and now that we’re here we want to go try and go all the way.”Said Inzaghi.
Inter had come into Wednesday’s clash in a miserable run of form in which their only win in their last eight games had come in last week’s first leg in Portugal.
The win set up two mouth-watering clashes with Milan next month after the Italian champions saw off Napoli on Tuesday night.
It also snapped a three-match home losing streak in which Inter hadn’t scored a single goal and continued their impressive season in cup competitions while their league campaign flounders.
Martinez and Correa ended worrying goalscoring droughts with their strikes, as well as making sure that Fredrik Aursnes, Antonio Silva and Petar Musa netting for the away side made no difference to the outcome of the tie.
“We’re really happy, we’re really proud to represent the badge and this great club,”
“We knew that this (going through) meant playing a derby in the semi-finals of the Champions League. I play this sport to win everything possible, I’m really happy to be in the semi-finals, this club deserves to be there.”Said Martinez.
Silva and Musa netted late on for Roger Schmidt’s team when Inter had already long made sure that they would be tussling Milan for a place in the June 10 final in Istanbul.
If there were any pre-match nerves among the sell-out San Siro crowd they were soon eased as Inter immediately played like the team in two cup semi-finals rather than the one which has lost 11 times in Serie A.
They could have been ahead as early as the sixth minute when Lautaro wasted a great counter-attack by playing a poor pass to Federico Dimarco who was haring into the box.
However Martinez redeemed himself for the opener, snaffling up possession after Edin Dzeko battled with the Benfica defence and exchanging passes with Barella who unleashed a perfectly placed curler with his left.
However a defensive lapse allowed Aursnes to pull Benfica on the night seven minutes before the break, the Norwegian midfielder left completely alone to power a header past Andre Onana.
Inzaghi said before the match that Inter would not simply defend but they sat back as Benfica pushed for an unlikely passage to the next round.
And with the home crowd enraged by Benfica fans throwing flares from the top-tier away end down onto home supporters, Martinez ensured Inter would go through in the 68th minute.
Dimarco was neatly found by Henrikh Mkhitaryan and the full-back put in a fizzing cross which Martinez expertly guided home to net his first goal since early March.
And a perfect night for Inter fans was completed with 12 minutes remaining when Correa shrugged off Nicolas Otamendi and curled in his first goal since early October.
Silva nodded home Alejandro Grimaldo’s cross with four minutes remaining but the home crowd was already singing ribald songs about Milan fans.
And Musa’s low finish deep in stoppage time, which Inzaghi later said they conceded because someone had blown a referee’s whistle in the crowd, was nothing more than a second consolation for the defeated Portuguese.