AC Milan held off an Arsenal comeback to advance to the Champions League soccer quarterfinals, where the seven-time European champions will be joined by Benfica.
Arsenal got first-half goals from Laurent Koscielny, Tomas Rosicky and Robin van Persie in a 3-0 win at London’s Emirates Stadium last night, falling short of overturning a 4-0 deficit from the opening game in Italy. Milan advanced to the final eight for the first time since winning Europe’s elite club competition in 2007.
“In the end, we qualified, even if the team made me lose some weight due to stress,” Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said at a news conference. “Elimination could have been a terrible blow.”
Benfica also advanced by a 4-3 aggregate scoreline after a 2-0 home win against Zenit St. Petersburg in Lisbon. The victory sends the two-time European champions to the quarterfinals for the first time in six years.
“It was a very hard-fought win,” Benfica captain Luisao said on UEFA’s website. “We have shown that Benfica never give up. Now we can dare to dream.”
After its worst European loss in the first game on Feb. 15, Arsenal needed the biggest comeback in Champions League history to advance.
“The players can be proud to play for this club because they put everything into it,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told reporters. “We were very close.”
On the Attack
Arsenal started on the offensive and took the lead after seven minutes as Koscielny headed in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s corner kick. Oxlade-Chamberlain was then stopped by goalkeeper Christian Abbiati, who also turned away a shot from van Persie.
Arsenal doubled its lead when Rosicky scored after a poor clearance from Thiago Silva. Van Persie scored on a penalty kick in the 43rd minute to pull Arsenal within one goal over the two matches.
Milan’s Stephen El Shaarawy missed a chance to increase his team’s lead as he shot wide after going in alone on goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny just before halftime.
Szczesny slid out to beat Zlatan Ibrahimovic to a pass early in the second half. Abbiati then saved Gervinho’s deflected shot with his leg and stopped van Persie’s effort on the rebound.
“The one you would want the chance to fall to was van Persie,” Wenger said. “Give credit to Abbiati.”
Ibrahimovic shot wide from distance with Szczesny scrambling back to the open goal. The Arsenal goalkeeper also went down to stop shots from El Shaarawy and Ibrahimovic, and saved a shot from Antonio Nocerino with his foot on the goal line. Arsenal failed to trouble Abbiati again as it pressed for the goal to send the game to extra time.
“I really don’t know what happened in the first half,” Milan defender Philippe Mexes said on UEFA’s website. “We played better in the second half, with less fear, and fortunately we managed to qualify.”
Benfica continued its European dominance at the Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, scoring in stoppage time at the end of each half to secure its quarterfinal spot.
Maxi Pereira gave Benfica the lead when he took a pass from Axel Witsel and sent a shot into the lower left corner. Nelson Oliveira then clinched the victory in the 93rd minute on the break with a shot that deflected off Tomas Hubocan and over goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev.
“We needed this victory,” Oliveira said. “Whoever we draw next, we will be ready.”
Benfica has lost one of its last 20 European home games, winning 16.
Defending champion Barcelona takes a 3-1 lead into its home match tonight against Bayer Leverkusen, while Lyon visits APOEL Nicosia leading 1-0.
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