Romelu Lukaku scored an 82nd-minute penalty as Inter Milan put themselves in a strong position to advance to the semi-finals of the Champions League after a deserved win away to Benfica.
Nicolo Barella’s downward header gave Inter the lead in the quarter-final first leg in Lisbon.
Benfica struggled to dictate play in front of their own fans as Inter produced a defensive masterclass in Lisbon.
Rafa Silva was denied by Andre Onana’s first-half save before Inter’s Netherlands defender Denzel Dumfries produced a crucial block from close range as Benfica pushed for an equaliser.
The Italian visitors wrapped up a solid win when substitute Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea, scored from the spot after former Inter player Joao Mario handled.
Premier League referee Michael Oliver awarded the penalty after watching the incident on the pitchside monitor, with replays showing the ball struck the side of Mario’s head before hitting his hand.
Simone Inzaghi’s side will fancy their chances of finishing the job in front of their own fans in the return leg on 19 April (20:00 BST).
Inter arrived in Portugal’s capital on the back of a poor run of form after failing to win any of their past six games.
But they took advantage of a hesitant Benfica to take a firm hold of the tie.
Barella’s goal came after an excellent cross by Alessandro Bastoni, with the Italy midfielder heading it back across the keeper and into the net.
It was Inter’s first attempt on target but Benfica keeper Odisseas Vlachodimos prevented further damage by saving from former Manchester United and Arsenal player Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
This was Benfica’s 13th European game of the season after starting their Champions League campaign at the third qualifying round stage back in August.
But they did not create enough and face a mammoth task to turn the tie around after Lukaku wrapped up victory.
The Belgium forward had missed out on a starting place to 37-year-old Edin Dzeko but made an impact from the spot after beating the keeper for pace and power.
There was still time for Benfica to reduce the deficit but Goncalo Ramos’ 89th-minute attempt was kept out by Onana on a memorable night for Inter.
“We cannot think that we are already in the semi-final because we are not,” Onana said.
“We still need another great game like today’s next week. I said that we had to come here and play without fear because we could win – we did just that.”
Player of the match
Squad number88Player nameGonçalo Ramos
Squad number66Player nameAntónio Silva
Squad number3Player nameGrimaldo
Squad number20Player nameJoão Mário
Squad number8Player nameAursnes
Squad number61Player nameFlorentino
Squad number2Player nameGilberto
Squad number27Player nameRafa
Squad number22Player nameChiquinho
Squad number91Player nameMorato
Squad number7Player nameDavid Neres
Squad number99Player nameVlachodimos
Squad number90Player nameLukaku
Squad number23Player nameBarella
Squad number11Player nameCorrea
Squad number2Player nameDumfries
Squad number10Player nameLa Martínez
Squad number8Player nameGosens
Squad number36Player nameDarmian
Squad number95Player nameBastoni
Squad number9Player nameDzeko
Squad number24Player nameOnana
Squad number33Player nameD’Ambrosio
Squad number77Player nameBrozovic
Squad number22Player nameMkhitaryan
Squad number32Player nameDimarco
Squad number6Player namede Vrij
Squad number15Player nameAcerbi
- 2Moraes Júnior
- 66António SilvaBooked at 22mins
- 91Rodrigues da Silva
- 61Morris LuísSubstituted forNeres Camposat 64′minutes
- 22Lima Silva Machado
- 20João Mário
- 27Fernandes Ferreira da Silva
- 88Gonçalo Ramos
- 4Veríssimo da Silva
- 7Neres Campos
- 15Gonçalo Guedes
- 24Jumpe Soares
- 65Vela Rodrigues
- 71Esteves Baptista
- 75Nogueira Gomes
- 87Gonçalves Neves
- 95BastoniSubstituted forde Vrijat 90+1′minutes
- 2DumfriesSubstituted forD’Ambrosioat 87′minutes
- 77BrozovicBooked at 50mins
- 32DimarcoSubstituted forGosensat 63′minutes
- 10La MartínezSubstituted forCorreaat 63′minutes
- 9DzekoBooked at 83minsSubstituted forLukakuat 63′minutes
- 6de Vrij
- Michael Oliver
Match ends, Benfica 0, Inter Milan 2.
Second Half ends, Benfica 0, Inter Milan 2.
Attempt saved. Gonçalo Ramos (Benfica) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by David Neres with a through ball.
Substitution, Inter Milan. Stefan de Vrij replaces Alessandro Bastoni.
Corner, Benfica. Conceded by Danilo D’Ambrosio.
Corner, Benfica. Conceded by Matteo Darmian.
Attempt blocked. Gonçalo Ramos (Benfica) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by David Neres.
Substitution, Inter Milan. Danilo D’Ambrosio replaces Denzel Dumfries.
Attempt missed. Alejandro Grimaldo (Benfica) left footed shot from the left side of the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by David Neres.
Chiquinho (Benfica) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Nicolò Barella (Inter Milan).
Edin Dzeko (Inter Milan) is shown the yellow card.
Goal! Benfica 0, Inter Milan 2. Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan) converts the penalty with a left footed shot to the bottom right corner.
VAR Decision: Penalty Inter Milan.
Penalty conceded by João Mário (Benfica) with a hand ball in the penalty area.
Attempt blocked. Denzel Dumfries (Inter Milan) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Attempt saved. Denzel Dumfries (Inter Milan) header from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Alessandro Bastoni with a cross.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Delay in match because of an injury Rafa (Benfica).
Attempt missed. Nicolò Barella (Inter Milan) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left. Assisted by Henrikh Mkhitaryan following a fast break.