AC Milan hang on despite Arsenal onslaught
AC Milan survived a grilling at Arsenal to reach the Champions League quarter-finals 4-3 on aggregate on Tuesday despite losing the second leg of their last 16 tie 3-0.
After seemingly wrapping up the tie in the San Siro last month with a 4-0 victory, Milan's lead all but evaporated before halftime as goals by Laurent Koscielny, Tomas Rosicky and Robin van Persie threatened one of the competition's greatest comebacks.
Image: Gervinho consoles team-mate Tomas Rosicky
Photographs: Getty Images
Koscielny gives Arsenal early lead
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had given his side a five percent chance of turning the tie around before kickoff but by halftime the odds were favouring the home side after a barnstorming 45 minutes at a rocking Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners made the perfect start, taking the lead after seven minutes when Laurent Koscielny headed in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's inswinging corner.
Image: Laurent Koscielny scores the first goal for Arsenal
Rosicky doubles Arsenal's lead
Robin van Persie twice tested Milan keeper Christian Abbiati, forcing one flying save, before Arsenal's second goal arrived after 26 minutes.
Theo Walcott sped down the right and his low cross was only half cleared by Thiago Silva straight to the lurking Czech Tomas Rosicky who steered a precise shot inside the near post.
Image: Tomas Rosicky (right) scores Arsenal's second goal
Van Persie's miss costs Arsenal
It turned out to be a mixed night day for Van Persie, who scored Arsenal's third goal but missed an easy opportunity later in the match.
Arsenal were awarded a penalty after Oxlade-Chamberlain was sandwiched by Djamel Mesbah and Nocerino, which Van Persie converted to make it 3-0 for the hosts.
With AC Milan's Champions League hopes under attack the ball rebounded invitingly to Van Persie in front of goal and the striker seemed certain to level the tie at 4-4 on aggregate to complete an amazing comeback.
Unbelievably, though, the Dutchman who cannot stop scoring chose the wrong option and his attempted dink went straight into the arms of relieved Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati and with it Arsenal's best chance of staying in the competition.
The incident early in the second half proved a pivotal moment in the match as Arsenal, who had roared into a 3-0 halftime lead, ran out of steam and Milan held on for a 4-3 aggregate victory to move into the quarter-finals.
Image: AC Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati saves Robin van Persie close range effort on goal
Photographs: Getty Images
Benfica ease past Zenit to enter quarters
Twice European champions Benfica reached the quarter-finals for the first time since 2006 when they secured a convincing 2-0 win over Russia's Zenit St Petersburg.
Image: Benfica's players celebrate victory
'Benfica and its fans deserve to be in the quarter-finals'
Benfica overturned a 3-2 deficit from the first leg in Russia to progress 4-3 on aggregate after dominating possession and restricting Zenit to sporadic counter-attacks.
Benfica kept pouring forward and the tactic paid off when the energetic Pereira scored from close range in first-half stoppage time following a neat backheel from Belgium international Axel Witsel.
Substitute Nelson Oliveira, who made his Portugal debut against Poland last week, grabbed the second goal just before the final whistle.
"Benfica and its fans deserve to be in the quarter-finals, specially those around their twenties who never saw Benfica in its widest European glory," Benfica coach Jorge Jesus told reporters.
"We knew that Zenit was not going to mind that we kept most of the ball, therefore we needed to score first so they would try and come out at us," Jesus added.
Image: Benfica's Nelson Oliveira scores the second goal