Champions League

Gent advances to last 16

Danijel Milicevic (Supplied)
Danijel Milicevic (Supplied)

Belgium - Gent qualified for the last 16 in its first ever Champions League campaign on Wednesday after goals from Laurent Depoitre and Danijel Milicevic gave the Belgian champion a 2-1 victory in Group H over already-qualified Zenit St. Petersburg.

Gent knew a victory would be enough to go through and the home side attacked from the kickoff. The tactic paid dividends in the 18th minute when Depoitre was left free by his marker Nicolas Lombaerts and glanced a high cross from Moses Simon beyond the reach of keeper Yuri Lodygin.

St. Petersburg got back into the game when Artim Dzyuba slotted home his sixth goal in as many games from close range in the 65th minute.

But Milicevic used his superb shooting skills for the decisive goal 13 minutes later.

In the end, even a defeat would have sufficed for Gent, since Lyon went to Valencia and beat Gent's only challenger 2-0 in Spain.

Zenit won Group H with 15 points, but three wins a row gave Gent 10 points for the runner up spot. Valencia finished with six and a spot in the Europa League with Lyon finishing last with four.

It was all Gent needed to become the first Belgian team in 15 years to reach the knockout phase of the competition.

"It is a historic win for Gent and Belgium," Milicevic said. "We were all waiting for this."

In front of 20,000 blue-clad home fans, Gent played with confidence, belying their status as the newcomer in the competition. St. Petersburg showed throughout the game the lackluster style of a team already assured of top placing in the group, whatever the result.

Now Gent can face one of the world's top sides after the winter break.

"If I can pick and choose, I go for Real Madrid," Milicevic said.

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