Having ended a 22-game wait for a UEFA Champions League victory last time out, AEK Athens FC maintained their winning habit by defeating AC Milan 1-0, although the Rossoneri still advanced to the knockout rounds as Group H winners because the other match in France finished level.
AEK took confidence from their Matchday 4 success against LOSC Lille Métropole, but were reliant on some excellent goalkeeping from Stefano Sorrentino as well as Júlio César's fine 32nd-minute free-kick to keep their dream alive. The Athens club, now in second place, will likely need a result at RSC Anderlecht in a fortnight to progress after the Belgian side fought back to draw 2-2 at third-placed Lille - a scoreline which left Milan in an unassailable position due to their superior head-to-head record against AEK following their 3-0 Matchday 1 victory.
AEK defender Traianos Dellas set the tone for an exciting opening half with barely a minute gone, rising to head Dániel Tőzsér's left-wing corner over the bar when unmarked. Milan responded in kind, Kaká breaking down the right, looking up and curling a deep cross to Clarence Seedorf whose volley into the ground ricocheted wide. Dida then comfortably saved a long-range drive from Nikolaos Liberopoulos before Filippo Inzaghi took centre stage.
The 33-year-old was presented with the first of three clear opportunities after ten minutes, expertly controlling Seedorf's centre on his chest and firing a shot that Sorrentino repelled after diving bravely at the striker's feet. The AEK keeper had to be at his best again moments later as Inzaghi pounced on an inadvertent back-pass and shot on goal. Sorrentino made it a hat-trick of eye-catching stops in the 21st minute, extending his right hand to palm away another effort from his Italian compatriot.
Inzaghi was looking to the heavens once more soon after, when Júlio César won a free-kick just outside the Milan box, picked himself up and curled a delicious set-piece around the wall and beyond a statuesque Dida. The seismic eruption underlined the importance of the goal, but two minutes later Kaká collected Paolo Maldini's flick-on from Andrea Pirlo's free-kick and fired into the side-netting from a tight angle. Having been let off, Gustavo Manduca could have doubled AEK's advantage only to head straight at Dida as the break approached. Milan returned after the interval without Alessandro Costacurta after a calf injury blighted his achievement at becoming the oldest UEFA Champions League player aged 40 years and 211 days.
When Inzaghi finally got the better of Sorrentino in the 53rd minute, the post came to AEK's rescue, and the Greek challengers spent the rest of the half on the retreat save for the occasional foray forward. Still, they had two chances to extend their lead just after the hour, Liberopoulos wasting the first when directing a loose ball wide after Dida had denied Manduca. The second was fine play all round, as a crossfield Stavros Tziortziopoulos pass found Júlio César and the goalscorer bent a shot to the far post which Dida kept out at full stretch. That was to be the keeper's final act as an injured left knee forced him off in the 78th minute, nine minutes before Júlio César left the field to rapturous applause. The latter Brazilian's work was done.