FC Schalke 04 secured first place in UEFA Champions League Group B with a draw at Montpellier Hérault SC, who bowed out of the competition on a positive note.
René Girard had insisted his side would make the most of their final European outing this season and the French champions were as good as their coach's word. Though Benedikt Höwedes gave the visitors the lead 11 minutes after the break, Emanuel Herrera levelled three minutes later to earn Montpellier a deserved second point of the group stage. With Arsenal FC losing at Olympiacos FC, a draw was enough for Huub Stevens's men to head into the last 16 as group winners, though only some fine late stops from Timo Hildebrand preserved Schalke's unbeaten record.
While the visiting goalkeeper was playing his first UEFA Champions League game in five years, at the opposite end Jonathan Ligali was making his European competition bow just three days after his Ligue 1 debut. Though he smothered reassuringly at the feet of Julian Draxler, he could only watch Teemu Pukki scuff wide an inviting low Draxler cross shortly after.
Montpellier enjoyed possession without penetration; Schalke pierced whenever they had the ball even with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar on the bench. The hosts found a single chink in the Bundesliga club's armour when Souleymane Camara seized a lofted pass, but the forward's untidy first touch meant a promising shooting opportunity was lost.
The emergence of Romain Pitau from the bench at half-time appeared simply a thoughtful gesture by Girard, handing the midfielder a UEFA Champions League debut at the age of 35. It almost proved a masterstroke with the veteran belying his combative reputation with a delicately weighted ball for Anthony Mounier, whose shot was blocked by Hildebrand before Atsuto Uchida lunged to somehow divert Herrera's follow-up over the unguarded goal.
The full-back's effort prevented a certain goal and, soon after, two fellow defenders combined to create one – Christoph Metzelder headed down Lewis Holtby's flighted free-kick for Höwedes to dive and nod over the line. Montpellier quickly recovered though, and when Herrera's header from a deep Mounier cross was repelled by Metzelder, the Schalke centre-back could not stop the MHSC attacker flicking in the rebound.
His confidence swelled by a maiden UEFA Champions League goal, a rejuvenated Herrera might even have won it for the Ligue 1 team, but the Argentinian was twice denied by Hildebrand – the second time brilliantly so – to leave Montpellier poorly rewarded for their Group B efforts.