Milan start defence with 2-1 win over Benfica

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MILAN, Sep 19 (Reuters) AC Milan opened the defence of their Champions League crown with a stylish 2-1 win over Benfica in Group D thanks to first-half goals by Andrea Pirlo and Filippo Inzaghi.

Pirlo bent a free kick into the top corner on nine minutes and Inzaghi, who scored both in Milan's 2-1 win over Liverpool in last season's final, grabbed his 43rd in this competition on 23 minutes after a run from Kaka and Pirlo's unselfish pass yesterday.

The goal was also Inzaghi's 60th in European club football and the 34-year-old former Juventus striker is fast approaching Gerd Mueller's record of 62, with Chelsea's Andriy Shevchenko also on 60.

Benfica scored with the last kick of the game when substitute Nuno Gomes slid in to score and the Lisbon club also had their moments earlier with tall striker Oscar Cardozo hitting the post with a header.

Milan were generally comfortable throughout though and could have scored several more with Inzaghi missing three good chances inside the box.

Brazil playmaker Kaka was his usual threat but fluffed a great opportunity in the first half following Massimo Oddo's header back into the area while Clarence Seedorf and Massimo Ambrosini also went close.

Milan selected the same side that beat Liverpool in Athens in May except for 39-year-old captain Paolo Maldini, who is set to return at the end of the month following knee surgery.

Kakha Kaladze took his place in the centre of defence but otherwise the seven-times winners looked like they had never been away as they knocked the ball around confidently.

Carlo Ancelotti's men also made a mockery of their stuttering start to the Serie A season where they have drawn their last two games 1-1.

Rui Costa, who played at Milan between 2001 and 2006 and won the Champions League with the Rossoneri in 2003, was warmly welcomed back by the San Siro crowd but the 35-year-old could not inspire a Benfica side which finished third in the Portuguese league last season.

New Benfica coach Jose Antonio Camacho surprisingly picked Cardozo to start upfront ahead of Nuno Gomes but the striker repaid his manager with a strong display, albeit in a garish pink away kit.

REUTERS BJR BST1015

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