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Inter Milan one step closer to first UCL semifinal since 2010 after 2-0 victory vs. Benfica

LISBON — Inter Milan struck in the second half through Nicolo Barella and Romelu Lukaku for a 2-0 win at Benfica in their Champions League quarterfinal, first leg on Tuesday which put them on course for a first last-four appearance since they won the trophy in 2010.

Barella headed home firmly at the back post in the 51st minute, rising unchallenged to get on the end of a superb cross from center back Alessandro Bastoni, who was storming up the left side and delivered a pin-point ball.

Substitute Lukaku then converted an 82nd minute penalty after VAR referred a handball by Benfica skipper Joao Mario for review by English referee Michael Oliver, who gave the spot kick after looking at the video monitor on the side of the pitch.

The two goals hand Inter a major advantage for the return leg at San Siro next Wednesday, where they will be heavily fancied to progress to an all-Italian semifinal against either neighbors AC Milan or Napoli.

Barella’s goal exposed Benfica’s nervy defense but the penalty was unfortunate as a Denzel Dumfries cross hit Joao Mario on his head and then his upright arm inside the box.

But Inter deserved their victory, conjuring up the better chances with Benfica’s Odysseas Vlachodimos making important second-half saves to deny Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Dumfries and avert an even heavier defeat.

Inter, who beat Benfica’s domestic rivals Porto in the previous round with a stoic defensive performance away in the second leg, were surprisingly adventurous at the start on their return to Portugal and dominated the early skirmishes.

But it was Benfica’s dangerous playmaker Rafa Silva who conjured up the first effort on target, firing straight at Inter goalkeeper Andre Onana after picking up a botched clearance by Federico Dimarco in the 16th minute.

Soon after, Joao Mario’s tempting cross flashed across the face of goal before Inter had their first effort - a powerful long-range shot by Francesco Acerbi that swerved dangerously close to the Benfica goal.

The hosts might have equalized five minutes after Barella scored but Dumfries got in the way during a goalmouth melee as Benfica’s strikers looked to sweep home a cross from Joao Mario that caused chaos.

Lukaku's precise penalty put Inter firmly in the driving seat before Onana made a vital stop on the final whistle to deny Goncalo Ramos a goal that would have given Benfica hope.

Inter Milan vs. Benfica Full Highlights

(Writing by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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