The UEFA Champions League semifinals are set.
Erling Haaland made up for his missed first half penalty by scoring his tournament leading 12th goal in the second as Manchester City tied Bayern Munich 1-1 Wednesday in Germany to advance 4-1 on aggregate. The Sky Blues will face defending champ Real Madrid over two legs next month for a spot in June’s final in Istanbul.
Inter Milan and Benfica tied 3-3 in Wednesday’s wild other match, with Inter advancing 5-3 over the home-and home, total goals series. Inter meets city rival and seven-time European titlist AC Milan in the other semi.
Here are three quick takeaways from Wednesday’s matches.
Manchester City completes rout of Bayern Munich
Despite trailing City by a seemingly insurmountable three goals, Bayern looked like it actually might make a game of it in the early going Wednesday. Then the same sort of unforced, self-inflicted mistakes that cost the Bundesliga’s most dominant club so dearly last week in soggy England reappeared.
Defender Dayot Upamecano was the main culprit once again. An offside call kept Upamecano from early expulsion for hauling down Haaland as he raced in alone on home keeper Yann Sommer, but it was a sign of things to come. It was Upamecano’s handball that sent Haaland to the spot only for the Norwegian to blast his effort well over Sommer’s net.
Haaland made no mistake when his next opportunity came, though. He ran onto a Kevin De Bruyne though-pass and isolated Upamecano, sending the center back slipping to the turf with a slick stutter-step before coolly finishing to the far post:
Joshua Kimmich pulled one back late for the hosts, but Haaland’s strike had settled the outcome long before then. Haaland has now scored a staggering 48 goals across all competitions during the 2022-23 season. He’s the main the reason Pep Guardiola’s team will be a slight favorite over holder and record 14-time champ Real in the next round — and why, finally, this could be City’s year.
[AC Milan snaps 16-year semifinal drought, Real Madrid hands Chelsea latest blow]
Inter hangs on against plucky Benfica
When Nicolo Barella made it 1-0 in Milan and 3-0 overall Wednesday, Benfica could’ve folded. The Portuguese instead kept on fighting, just as they have all season. The home side put two more goals past Odysseas Vlachodimos and still the visitors wouldn’t quit, eventually pulling even through a pair of goals in the last nine minutes, including Petar Musa’s equalizer almost five minutes into second half stoppage time.
So Benfica deserves a lot of credit for the way it approached this game, and for it its hugely impressive Champions League campaign overall. Still, while Inter didn’t end up with the win at home, by scoring three goals it did what it needed to do to keep the visitors at bay and set up a delicious all-Milanese encounter in the next round with a trip to the Super Bowl of club soccer at stake.
Simone Inzaghi’s team will have to defend better than they did Wednesday to emerge from those two contests with bragging rights around the San Siro. AC Milan will no doubt be the bookies’ pick. But that’s a worry for next month; for Inter, getting back to the semis for the first time in 13 years is clearly a triumph. And the run isn’t over yet.
Storylines aplenty in the star-studded semis
There’s the two most decorated teams in the competition’s history in Real Madrid and AC Milan. There’s Real trying to keep the trophy against the club, City, that has for years made hoisting it not just their top priority but an obsession, only to fail at or near the finish line time and again – including to this same foe, at this same stage, last year.
There’s Haaland, the greatest pure goalscorer the sport has seen since Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were in their primes a decade ago and the man who just might finally put the Sky Blues over the hump in the Champions League.
Then you have one of the great crosstown rivalries in the game between Serie A mainstays AC Milan and Inter — with at least one of Italy’s legacy clubs assured of reaching the finale for the first time in more than a decade — playing out over 180 minutes at the iconic stadium that they share in the world’s fashion capital.
AC Milan and Inter Milan haven’t met in Champions League play since the 2005 quarterfinals. The former won the last of its seven continental titles in 2007; Inter has three European crowns, with 2010 the most recent. In a grandiose competition that’s all about glitz and glamor, it’s hard to ask for a more intriguing final four.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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