https://japantoday.com-By Jed Court
AC Milan reached the Champions League knock-out stage for the first time in nine years on Wednesday with a 4-0 victory over Salzburg, while RB Leipzig also qualified by thrashing Shakhtar Donetsk.
Paris Saint-Germain will be the team group winners want to avoid in Monday’s last-16 draw after missing out on top spot in Group H despite a 2-1 win at Juventus, as Benfica hammered Maccabi Haifa 6-1 to snatch first place on total away goals.
Seven-time European champions Milan knew a point would be enough to send them into the last 16 for the first time since the 2013-14 season after a group-stage exit last term.
“These kinds of nights is what we wish for,” Milan coach Stefano Pioli told Sky Sport.
“We wanted to show we improved compared to last season in the Champions League. We’re ambitious now, so let’s see what happens next.”
Pioli’s side eased any nerves at the San Siro inside 14 minutes as Olivier Giroud headed home.
Milan’s return to the knockouts was all but confirmed less than a minute after half-time when Giroud headed the ball across goal for Rade Krunic to nod past Philipp Kohn in the Salzburg goal.
Giroud added his second before the hour mark, allowing the home fans the opportunity to celebrate for the remainder of the match and Junior Messias added further gloss to the scoreline in added time.
Milan qualified from Group E in second place behind Chelsea, who came from behind to beat Dinamo Zagreb 2-1 at Stamford Bridge with goals from Raheem Sterling and debutant Denis Zakaria.
Leipzig also only needed to avoid defeat to go through against Ukrainians Shakhtar in Warsaw.
Shakhtar, playing their home matches in Poland and having seen most of their foreign players leave due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, had stunned Leipzig 4-1 in their Group F opener.
But the Bundesliga side were too strong after Christopher Nkunku’s early strike left Shakhtar with a mountain to climb.
Andre Silva and Dominik Szoboszlai netted in the second period and Dani Olmo’s shot was deflected into his own net by Valeriy Bondar to wrap up a 4-0 win.
“I’m really proud of the team. We didn’t start well in this Champions League campaign, but we put in a solid performance today and are really happy to be through,” Leipzig forward Emil Forsberg told DAZN.
Holders Real Madrid secured first place in the group by hammering Scottish champions Celtic 5-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Luka Modric and Rodrygo both scored penalties awarded for handball in the opening stages, before Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois saved Josip Juranovic’s spot-kick.
Second-half goals from Marco Asensio, Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde completed the rout despite Jota’s late consolation for Celtic who finished bottom.
Karim Benzema also made his return from injury as a substitute to complete a good night for Carlo Ancelotti’s men.
PSG lost top spot in Group H despite Nuno Mendes’ 69th-minute winner in Turin as Benfica scored five goals in the second half at Maccabi.
Kylian Mbappe’s brilliant individual effort put PSG in front, before Leonardo Bonucci dragged already-eliminated Juventus level.
Mendes scored only a minute after coming off the bench, but late drama in Israel saw PSG slip to second.
Possible last-16 opponents for the Qatari-owned club include 14-time champions Real Madrid, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and in-form Napoli.
“It doesn’t matter, we qualified… We’ll watch the draw and we’ll play to win,” Mbappe told RMC Sport.
Three goals in 14 minutes in the second half gave Benfica hope of matching PSG’s goal difference and pipping them on away goals.
It appeared as though the Portuguese would come up two short, but Henrique Araujo scored in the 88th minute and Joao Mario struck in injury time to complete the job.
“As the game progressed, we saw that it was within our reach,” Goncalo Ramos, who scored Benfica’s third goal, told Eleven Sports.
Juventus will drop into the Europa League after finishing third despite losing five of their six group matches.
Manchester City came from behind to round off their Group G campaign with a 3-1 win over Sevilla at the Etihad.
Rafa Mir gave the Spaniards the lead, but 17-year-old full-back Rico Lewis fired City level.
Julian Alvarez and Riyad Mahrez sealed all three points for Pep Guardiola’s Premier League champions, who were still without the injured Erling Haaland.
Borussia Dortmund were held to a 1-1 draw by FC Copenhagen.
© 2022 AFP