A fright night for AC Milan ended with a 1-1 draw and a place in the UEFA Champions League first knockout round after FC Zürich paid a high price for a single unfortunate challenge.
Milan Gajić's superb 29th-minute free-kick for Zürich, who earned a shock 1-0 victory in Milan on Matchday 2, looked set to steer the eliminated Swiss champions to a repeat success. But on 64 minutes Alain Rochat felled Marco Borriello, meaning a red card and a penalty which Ronaldinho gratefully converted to settle nerves. Milan advance as Group C runners-up behind Real Madrid CF thanks to their 3-1 win at Olympique de Marseille.
Milan made a bright start and needed only seven minutes to create their first chance, with left-back Luca Antonini breaking down the flank to cross, Marco Borriello nodding on and Pato meeting it with a volley which Johnny Leoni did well to smother. It was not a sign of things to come. Zürich's Adrian Nikci swung a left-footed shot just wide by way of reply and although his side needed longer to settle than the seven-time European champions, they were impressive when they did.
The hosts could easily have forged ahead in the 26th minute when Gajić threaded the ball past Milan's defence. Alexandre Alphonse sprinted clean through but contrived to balloon his shot over. Gajić made no such mistake three minutes later from over 25 metres, bending his free-kick around the Milan wall and just inside the left-hand post with Dida beaten at full stretch. It was a fair reward for Zürich's efforts and despite Borriello hooking a half-chance over shortly afterwards, they were looking good for their lead. They might even have had a second shortly before the break when Onyekachi Okonkwo sent in a rising shot from the edge of the area, forcing a sharp save from Dida.
Milan, which had struggled in the final third throughout the opening 45 minutes, showed a little more bite after the restart. Fed by Clarence Seedorf, Ronaldinho drilled in a low angled shot from inside the area which Leoni kept out with a one-handed save. It was not enough for Milan coach Leonardo, who sent on Mathieu Flamini for Massimo Ambrosini to try and stir things up.
It certainly livened up just after the hour when Seedorf slipped a killer pass through to Borriello in the Zürich area and the forward was sent tumbling. Ronaldinho gave Leoni no chance with the spot-kick, sending the keeper the wrong way. Suddenly, with the home side down to ten men, it was a different contest and Milan substitute Kakha Kaladze came agonisingly close to putting the visitors in front with a header from Andrea Pirlo's free-kick. To their credit, Zürich were determined to exit the competition heads high and they limited Leonardo's men to only half chances late on, but Milan had done enough.