Gent became the first Belgian side to reach the Champions League last 16 since 2000-01 as they registered a 2-1 victory over Zenit.
Laurent Depoitre and Danijel Milicevic scored the goals to send the hosts through in second place in Group H, with Zenit also progressing as pool winners, 14 years after Anderlecht reached the second phase of the competition.
With Valencia slipping to a home defeat against Lyon, Gent did not even need a point to ensure their progression but a dominant first-half performance and Milicevic’s late winner helped head coach Hein Vanhaezebrouc’s team end their guests’ perfect record in the group stage.
Depoitre broke his scoring drought with the opener in the 18th minute, heading home Moses Simon’s cross, while Zenit struggled for creativity up front before the break, with Brazilian star Hulk rested by coach Andre Villas-Boas.
The dynamic of the game changed after half-time, though, as Zenit returned revitalised, and the Russians found an equaliser in the 65th minute thanks to Artem Dzyuba’s sixth goal of the group stage.
However, Milicevic popped up with 13 minutes remaining to hammer home Gent’s second.
After a quiet opening quarter-of-an-hour, the hosts took the lead in the 18th minute. Simon darted down the left flank and crossed to the near post, where Depoitre rose superbly to loop his header over Zenit goalkeeper Yuri Lodygin and into the far corner.
The visitors were chasing a record-breaking sixth win out of six in this season’s group stage but rarely threatened the home side’s goal during the first half, with Lodygin making comfortable saves from Nana Asare and Renato Neto at the other end as Gent enjoyed the larger share of territory and possession.
Depoitre should have given the hosts a two-goal lead in the 31st minute but, after collecting Luis Neto’s horribly under-hit back pass, the striker was foiled by a good save from Lodygin, who used his right boot to deny the forward his eighth goal of the season in all competitions.
Simon could have done better than shoot straight at Lodygin seven minutes before half-time from Depoitre’s flick-on, as Gent continued to dominate, while Asare missed a golden chance to double the Belgians’ advantage in the 41st minute, as he turned Thomas Foket’s cross straight at Lodygin from less than six yards out.
Zenit presented a different prospect for Gent in the early moments of the second half, with home keeper Matz Sels pawing away a powerful effort from Aleksandr Ryazantsev in the 48th minute and, with 25 minutes remaining, the Russian outfit found an equaliser.
Home captain Sven Kums sliced his attempted clearance high into the air inside the Gent penalty area and Dzyuba outmuscled the home defence to control the ball and sidefoot underneath Sels from 10 yards out.
Zenit seemed to have the momentum as the game entered its final quarter but, moments after the home crowd learned of Valencia conceding a second goal to Lyon, Milicevic cued wild celebrations in the stands at the Ghelamco Arena in the 77th minute.
The wide midfielder found himself with time and space inside the area to lash a half-volley beyond Lodygin and make absolutely certain of Gent’s place in the knockout stages.
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