Benfica's Fredrik Aursnes (left) and Inter Milan's Carlos Augusto fight for the ball during the Champions League group D soccer match between SL Benfica and Inter Milano at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on Nov 29, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)
LISBON, Portugal - Inter Milan scored three second-half goals as they fought back from 3-0 down to rescue a 3-3 draw with Benfica in a pulsating Champions League Group D clash on Wednesday after Joao Mario netted a hat-trick for the hosts.
It was the first time Inter had come back from three goals down in the Champions League and the fight back denied Benfica a first win over the Italians after seven meetings in major European competition.
Inter, who had already qualified for the last 16, are level on 11 points with Real Sociedad, while Benfica are bottom of the group with one point, three behind third-placed Salzburg.
Inter will host Real Sociedad in their final group match on Dec 12, a game that Simone Inzaghi's side must win to finish top of the group, while Benfica face Salzburg in their final game with a Europa League spot still up for grabs.
Benfica's Portuguese midfielder #20 Joao Mario (left) fights for the ball with Inter Milan's Italian midfielder #16 Davide Frattesi during the UEFA Champions League first round group D football match between SL Benfica and FC Inter Milan at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on Nov 29, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)
"I'm really happy with the reaction of the team in the second half. We went close to winning it," Inzaghi said to UEFA.com.
"In the first half we had a bad approach, we knew the potential of our opponents and we had to take the pitch in a different way.
"During the interval we talked, we changed something and we played with a completely different spirit in the second half."Benfica broke the deadlock after five minutes when Joao Mario finished first time after Casper Tengstedt headed it down for the former Inter player.
Inter Milan's Marko Arnautovic did pull one back for Inter six minutes into the second half, while Davide Frattesi scored another goal for the visitors seven minutes later with a well-placed volley
He then capitalized on a failed clearance from the Inter defence eight minutes later to double the lead, before completing his hat-trick in the 34th minute when he bundled the ball home from close range from a cross.
Joao Mario became only the second player to score a hat-trick against Inter in the Champions League after Gareth Bale achieved the feat with Tottenham Hotspur in 2010.
Inter struggled to get into the game and their first chance arrived when Marko Arnautovic was denied by Benfica goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin in a one-on-one.
Arnautovic, however, did pull one back for Inter six minutes into the second half, while Davide Frattesi scored another goal for the visitors seven minutes later with a well-placed volley.
Alexis Sanchez completed the comeback from the penalty spot after 72 minutes after Nicolas Otamendi had tripped Marcus Thuram.
Benfica were reduced to 10 men in the final minutes after Antonio Silva was given his marching orders for a late challenge on Nicolo Barella.
Inter Milan's Chilean forward #70 Alexis Sanchez (right) shoots and scores a penalty kick past Benfica's Ukrainian goalkeeper #75 Anatoliy Trubin (left) to scores his team's third goal during the UEFA Champions League first round group D football match between SL Benfica and FC Inter Milan at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on Nov 29, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)
Inter then went close to securing a victory in stoppage time, but Barella's powerful long-range strike hit the woodwork.
"It's hard to explain, to find the words after the first half we had then what happened in the second," Joao Mario said.
"We made some mistakes, that's true, but some details were always against us tonight. It's hard to find out why after a first half like that, no one would imagine the game would end like this."
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