AC Milan finally have something to cheer about this term after sealing their advance to the UEFA Champions League knockout stage with a 3-1 win away against Group C rivals RSC Anderlecht.
Málaga CF's 2-2 draw at FC Zenit St Petersburg meant victory would take Milan through to the last 16, and, not for the first time this season, they looked to Stephan El Shaarawy to light the way. The 20-year-old buried the visitors' first chance shortly after the interval and Philippe Mexès doubled their lead with an outrageous overhead kick after Bram Nuytinck had seen red for the hosts. Tom De Sutter reduced the arrears, but Pato responded for the Diavolo with a last-gasp third.
A surging early run from Bojan Krkić suggested Milan were hungry to progress with a game to spare, and they dictated the tempo until the home side exploded into life in the 13th minute. Skewering the Rossoneri defence with a snap through ball, Dieudonné Mbokani sent Milan Jovanović clear with time and space on the left, only for the No11 to aim his shot too close to Christian Abbiati. Moments later, 18-year-old schemer Dennis Praet dragged an effort narrowly wide.
The Brussels team were active participants in an engrossing tussle, finding their poise and making more of their passes stick. They went close again when a Lucas Biglia free-kick was flicked on in the area. Arriving at the far post, Mbokani stretched out a leg to apply the final touch, only for the ball to be whipped away by Milan left-back Kévin Constant.
In contrast, the Rossoneri were struggling to test the Anderlecht rearguard, but they caught the Belgian champions cold just two minutes after the restart when El Shaarawy brought down Mattia De Sciglio's looping cross from the right and calmly side-footed high to goalkeeper Silvio Proto's left.
The situation deteriorated further for Les Mauves when last man Nuytinck was dismissed for a foul on substitute Pato, and, from Riccardo Montolivo's subsequent free-kick, Mexès found the net with one for the highlights reel. Controlling with his chest, and, with his back to goal 20 metres out on the right, the French international conjured a magnificent overhead kick that sailed into the far corner.
John van den Brom's troops roused themselves late on as De Sutter finished from close range, but their hopes of staying in the qualification hunt faded when Olivier Deschacht blasted over after racing down the left. They were snuffed out definitively by Pato's simple finish in added time, though victory at Málaga in a fortnight could yet earn the consolation of UEFA Europa League football.