Sevilla FC put one foot in the UEFA Champions League first knockout round as two Sébastien Squillaci goals helped secure a third successive Group G win at VfB Stuttgart, despite a spirited performance from the home team.
The German side put in a promising attacking display but were ultimately made to pay for a failure to convert their chances. Two set-piece headers from French international defender Squillaci either side of a Jesús Navas strike did the damage for the visitors, who established a five-point cushion at the top of the section. They were forced to endure plenty of pressure against a positive Stuttgart team who perhaps deserved more than Élson's 74th-minute consolation.
Stuttgart started purposefully, Julian Schieber heading Sami Khedira's cross just wide inside the first minute. Schieber was clearly keen to prove his worth having been preferred to Pavel Pogrebnyak up front, going close twice more in the opening 15 minutes while Aleksandr Hleb threaded a superb pass through for Cacau to cut in from the left, but his effort was comfortably saved by Javi Varas.
With pressure mounting a goal appeared imminent and seemed to have arrived when Zdravko Kuzmanović shot in from the edge of the penalty area, but Schieber had strayed offside. The home crowd were in fine voice as their side dominated the opening exchanges, but 23 minutes in the stadium fell silent as Jesús Navas rolled a short corner to Adriano and the midfielder made the most of the time and space he was afforded, measuring a perfect cross for Squillaci to head in at the far post.
Markus Babbel's charges refused to let their heads drop and almost responded immediately, Hleb's left-foot shot fizzing just wide and Kuzmanović firing narrowly over after some intricate footwork from the impressive Hleb. Sevilla coach Manuel Jiménez clearly took heed of the plentiful warnings, replacing Luis Fabiano with Aldo Duscher at the interval in hope of preserving the slender lead.
The more defensive switch did nothing to alter the pattern of play, Stuttgart again enjoying the upper hand, yet once more they were caught out at the back ten minutes after the restart. Jens Lehmann could only palm out substitute Diego Perotti's awkward left-wing cross and the alert Jesús Navas was swift to profit, prodding into the yawning net. With Stuttgart forced to commit men forward Frédéric Kanouté took advantage of the resulting space and found himself clean through, rounding Lehmann only for Khalid Boulahrouz to spare Stuttgart blushes.
Any lingering home hopes were nevertheless finished by another Sevilla set-piece on 72 minutes, Ivica Dragutinović delivering an inswinging free-kick from the right for Squillaci to glance past the exposed Lehmann. Although substitute Élson replied at once with a stunning free-kick from 25 metres, it was scant consolation for Stuttgart and Babbel's team now face an uphill struggle to progress ahead of the reverse fixture in Spain on 4 November.