Inter Milan secured a historic Champions League semi-final with arch-rivals AC Milan despite being held by Benfica at an ecstatic San Siro.
Leading 2-0 from the first leg in Lisbon, Inter increased their aggregate lead following Nicolo Barella’s sumptuous finish before a bullet header by Fredrik Aursnes gave Benfica hope.
Argentina World Cup winner Lautaro Martinez and substitute Joaquin Correa made it 5-1 on aggregate before Benfica scored two late goals through Antonio Silva and Petar Musa.
Inter have lost four of their past five games in Serie A to drop out of the Champions League places, but Simone Inzaghi’s side can now look forward to two mouth-watering matches against Milan – who knocked out Napoli on Tuesday – for a place in the final.
“It will be a special derby,” said Martinez. “We all know what this game means, to play a Milan derby in the Champions League semi-finals.
“Happiness is the word, I’m so proud to represent this crest and this great club which is back to where it belongs.”
Inzaghi, the first Italian coach to lead Inter to the semi-finals of the European Cup since Eugenio Bersellini in 1980-81, said his team have nothing to fear against Milan.
“We deserve this semi-final. It was a dream but now we’re here and we’ll play it big,” he added.
Inter looked to be cruising when Italy midfielder Barella made it 3-0 on aggregate after creating space for himself inside the box before producing a wonderful curling finish.
But Benfica were not done and Norway midfielder Aursnes kept the tie alive with a powerful header.
The damage from the first leg was too much, however, as Martinez prodded home Federico Dimarco’s cross before Correa netted two minutes after coming on.
To their credit, Benfica kept going and Silva made it 3-2 on the night before substitute Musa equalised deep into stoppage time.
However, it was not enough to stop Inter from booking their place in the semi-finals for the first time since 2010 – when they won the competition under Jose Mourinho.