Milan follows Malaga to final 16
Stephan El Shaarawy (R) of AC Milan celebrates with team-mates after scoring
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia ● Zenit St. Petersburg came from 2-0 behind to draw with Malaga 2-2 in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Malaga qualified for the last 16 in its first Champions League campaign two weeks ago, while Zenit’s hopes in Group C went in vain, as they depended on AC Milan not winning the late match against Anderlecht.
Diego Buonanotte opened the scoring for Malaga on the visitor’s first attack in the eighth minute. A minute later, Roque Santa Cruz stole the ball from goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev and passed it to Seba, who stunned Zenit by hammering the ball into an empty net.
Zenit was close to scoring in the half. Hulk curled a neat free kick over the wall of defenders only to shave the right post in the 15th. Eight minutes later, the Brazilian put Alexander Kerzhakov through into the box but the striker hit the outer side of the net.
Hulk then hit the crossbar in the 24th.
“We started really bad and were 2-0 down after 10 minutes,” Danny said. “We had chances in the first half and could have scored the third goal in the second. It will be tough, but we still have chances to stay in Europe.”
Zenit was more aggressive in the beginning of the second half and Danny finally scored from close range to narrow the gap in the 49th.
Three minutes later, Kerzhakov broke into the box but failed to hit an empty net over goalkeeper Willy.
The striker was also too late connecting to a cutting cross into the box from Axel Witsel in the 72nd.
Danny was close to an equalizer in the 86th but failed to control the ball in a goalmouth scramble and stood inside the net when Viktor Fayzulin blocked the clearance and curled the ball back into the right corner of the net to level.
AC Milan 3, Anderlecht 1
Stephan El Shaarawy and Philippe Mexes produced flashes of brilliance to lead AC Milan to a victory and a place in the next round.
The 20-year-old El Shaarawy won space in the penalty area in the 47th minute and deftly controlled a long cross with his left foot to set up right-footed curling shot that gave goalkeeper Silvio Proto no chance.
Mexes did even better in the 71st. Receiving a free kick on the edge of the box with his back to goal, his spectacular overhead bicycle kick dipped over Proto’s head and into the far corner from 20 metres out.
Although Milan had dominated the first half, El Shaarawy’s moment of class added to the momentum and the visitors grew in confidence after Anderlecht defender Bram Nuytinck was sent off for a foul on Alexandre Pato in the 70th minute.
The consolation goal of Tom De Sutter in the 77th had little impact.
El Shaarawy added an assist to his goal when he set up Pato for a third in injury time.
With one game remaining, Malaga has 11 points, three more than Milan. Anderlecht and Zenit St. Petersburg both have four points and are competing for a Europa League berth.
The victory was the result Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri craved with his team struggling in the first half of the season, having made its worst Serie A start in 71 years.
In Brussels, though, it showed off a newfound confidence — and an emerging star in El Shaarawy. The Italy international’s fine strike brought up his 15th goal of the season in all competitions.
Since Milan is trailing in 12th position in Serie A, 17 points behind defending champion Juventus, the Champions League looks like the only competition in which the club can make its mark.
Milan was without captain Massimo Ambrosini, who had not recovered from the flu.