Philippe Mexes scored a sensational overhead kick as AC Milan advanced into the knockout stage of the Champions League with a 3-1 win over Anderlecht in Belgium.
Stephan El Shaarawy scored a wonderful goal himself just minutes into the second half before Bram Nuytinck was shown a straight red card for a professional foul on Alexandre Pato.
Mexes then produced a wonderful acrobatic effort, similar to that of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s fourth goal against England last week, to double his side’s lead.
Anderlecht manager John van den Brom then introduced forward Tom De Sutter who halved the deficit with 11 minutes to go.
The hosts pushed for an all-important equaliser but were caught short at the back as El Shaarawy and Pato combined deep into stoppage time to confirm the Rossoneri’s place in the knockout stage, eliminating Anderlecht in the process.
Knowing that a win would see them through, Milan started the game in a frantic pace and really took it to their opponents.
Anderlecht struggled to cope with the attacking threat posed by the Italian giants in the opening 15 minutes, although Anderlecht goalkeeper Silvio Proto was an innocent bystander as the Rossoneri struggled to find that killer pass.
Former Barcelona striker Bojan Krkic showed a turn of pace down the left wing, skipping past defender Guillaume Gillet before cutting into the box from the byline. Bojan looked to find a man as he neared the goal but lost his footing which allowed for Proto to claim the ball at the Spaniard’s feet.
The resolute Anderlecht defence withstood the sustained pressure and then we able to help their side slowly get a foothold in the game.
The first real chance of the opening 45 minutes came a quarter of an hour into the match when former Liverpool winger Milan Jovanovic was sent through down the left by Dieudonne Mbokani. Jovanovic raced into the penalty area without a single Milan player near him.
The Serbian set himself and only had Christian Abbiati to beat from 10 yards, but the keeper got his angles right and was able to stick out a leg, clearing the ball to safety.
The visitors failed to clear the ball when it was next sent into the penalty area which allowed for Dennis Praet to wriggle past a lacklustre challenge and fire at goal from 25 yards. The midfielder failed to make sufficient contact on the ball and Abbiati watched it fly wide of his right-hand post.
Both sides looked intent on attacking whenever the opportunity presented itself which made for an entertaining opening half despite a real chance presenting itself.
With just 10 minutes to go, Anderlecht looked certain to score following captain Lucas Biglia’s brilliant set-piece. The midfielder whipped in a devilish ball from the left which looked destined to land at the feet of Mbokani. Left-back Kevin Constant was able to make a last-ditch challenge and send the ball away for a corner.
Milan started the second half as they did the first and were rewarded with a goal after two minutes.
Mattia De Sciglio spotted the run of El Shaarawy at the far post and found him with a pinpoint cross. Defender Gillet did not cover himself in glory as he allowed the Italy international too much space but take nothing away from the finish; the 20-year-old controlled superbly before volleying emphatically into the back of the net from six yards.
Anderlecht pushed for a vital equaliser but had their backs to the wall following the dismissal of Nuytinck. Substitute Pato was on the pitch just two minutes before being brought down as Milan attacked in a two-on-two situation.
The decision was marginal but the referee deemed the defender to be the last man and brandished the red card.
Salt was rubbed into the hosts’ wounds from the free-kick as Mexes controlled superbly with his chest on the edge of the penalty area before producing a sublime overhead kick, sending the ball past the helpless Proto into the far corner.
Anderlecht were given a slight glimmer of hope with 11 minutes remaining as substitute Tom De Sutter turned the ball home from six yards after Olexandr Yakovenko rose highest to nod the ball down.
The Belgian outfit continued to push forward, knowing a defeat would send them out of the competition. They filled the opposition box with players but were caught on a swift counter attack.
El Shaarawy broke down the left, leaving the tracking defenders in his wake, and ventured into the penalty area. Proto could do nothing else but rush out at the feet of El Shaarawy, who simply squared the ball into the path of Brazilian Pato, leaving him an empty net to tap into.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Philippe Mexes – AC Milan: The goal alone deserved the man of the match award. The French defender showed unbelievable technique – definitely not something you’re used to seeing defender do – to perfectly control the ball before sending the ball into the top corner.
ANDERLECHT: Proto 5; Gillet 5, Kouyate 6, Nuytinck 4, Deschacht 6; Kljestan 5, Biglia 6, Bruno 6, Praet 6, Jovanovic 5; Mbokani 7. Subs: Yakovenko 6, De Sutter 7, Fernando Canesin 4.
MILAN: Abbiati 6; De Sciglio 7, Mexes 9, Yepes 6, Constant 6; Montolivo 6, De Jong 5; Nocerino 6; Boateng 6, El Shaarawy 8, Bojan 6. Subs: Pato 6, Zapata 4, Emanuelson 6.