Zenit beat AC Milan to secure Europa League berth
Seven-time European champions Milan had already qualified for the Champions League knockout stages by finishing second in Group C, but Zenit had to outdo last-placed Anderlecht to advance to secure third place.
With the Belgians drawing 2-2 with group leaders Malaga in Spain, the Russians’ passage was cemented Tuesday.
Zenit’s Portuguese midfielder Miguel Danny scored what turned out to be the winning goal in the 35th minute, steering a loose ball into the corner after playing a neat one-two with Sergei Semak.
The results left Malaga top on 12 points, Milan second on eight, Zenit third on seven points and Anderlecht fourth on five.
Luciano Spalletti’s side gain moderate revenge for a 3-2 home defeat by Milan in October, recording their second victory in the group stage after beating Anderlecht 1-0.
It was the Rossoneri’s second loss after a 1-0 away defeat to Malaga.
Milan had to make do without first-team regulars Riccardo Montolivo and Daniele Bonera, and Massimiliano Allegri rested star striker Pato.
Zenit made a lively start but it was Milan who went closest early on.
Giampaolo Pazzini spurned the hosts’ first real chance, flicking a point-blank effort over Vyacheslav Malafeev’s goal.
Milan’s Colombian defender Cristian Zapata was unable to keep his shot down from the resulting corner.
After Zenit had gone one up, Bojan Krkic tried an overhead scissor kick but sent his effort just wide.
There was controversy moments later, when Mathieu Flamini nearly equalised with Tomas Hubocan in need of treatment on the ground next to him. Malafeev did well to deflect the Frenchman’s stinging drive from 20 yards.
Milan wasted their best chance up to that point on 53 minutes, when Malafeev stretched to his right to block a low shot from Pazzini.
The ball bounced towards the line but Alexander Anyukov cleared the danger.
Milan were having a hard time penetrating a Zenit back four protected by midfield enforcer Igor Denisov, who played a big part in keeping Kevin Prince Boateng and Krkic quiet.
It forced Milan coach Massimilano Allegri to bring on Brazilian forward Robinho in place of Algerian left-back Djamel Mesbah.
Milan instantly had a greater zip about their attack, and Anyukov had to make a desperate lunging tackle to deny Krkic a shot at goal on 74 minutes.
Brazil star Hulk had a torrid night as the lone striker for Zenit with top scorer Alexander Kerzhakov missing through injury.
He was substituted for Konstantin Zyryanov on 80 minutes as Spalletti looked to protect his lead.
Robinho was a whisker away from a equalising on 84 minutes, sending a wicked curling shot just wide of Malafeev’s left-hand post.
Milan substitute Stephan El Shaarawy came even closer seconds later, losing Bruno Alves in the box but dragged just wide from 10 yards out.
Zyryanov could have made it 2-0 to Zenit on an injury-time counterattack but Christian Abbiati saved his half-volley.
With the win, Zenit get another crack the trophy they won in 2008, when it was known as the UEFA Cup, by beating Glasgow Rangers 2-0 in the final at the City of Manchester Stadium.