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Monaco's group win 'not by chance'

"We're not there by chance," said AS Monaco FC scorer Aymen Abdennourafter the 2-0 win that took them through past an FC Zenit side not hiding their disappointment.

Leonardo Jardim savours Monaco's qualification for the knockout stage
Leonardo Jardim savours Monaco's qualification for the knockout stage ©AFP/Getty Images

Monaco beat Zenit 2-0 to qualify and goalscorer Aymen Abdennour shares his delight
Leonardo Jardim hails qualification as "important for Monaco and French football"
Zenit coach André Villas-Boas hoping for a good run in the UEFA Europa League
Nicolas Lombaerts and Axel Witsel do not hide their disappointment
Round of 16 draw takes place in Nyon at 12.00CET on 15 December

Aymen Abdennour, Monaco defender
We really wanted to win the game. We knew it wouldn't be easy as Zenit are a great side. In the first half we played with great intelligence, staying quite deep, defending well and playing on the counterattack. In the second half, we changed our approach and tried to score a goal or two to kill the game off.

I'm delighted for the squad and particularly for the fans, because it's been a long time since Monaco were in the Champions League and now we're through to the last 16. Now we're waiting for the draw on Monday and I hope it'll suit us.

We expected to finish second in the group given Leverkusen have a great team. But we're not top by chance. We beat Leverkusen home and away, we beat Zenit, and we lost just one game – against Benfica away. I think we're improving enormously. We've been winning for the last month, and we have played a lot of really good games. I hope that'll continue.

I think we have one of the best defences in the Champions League – I'm very happy because I play in the back four, but I'm also happy for our goalkeeper and the technical staff who work on the defence a lot. We now have to keep going, keep improving, that's the most important thing.

Fabinho is congratulated after scoring Monaco's clinching second
Fabinho is congratulated after scoring Monaco's clinching second©AFP/Getty Images

Leonardo Jardim, Monaco coach
Qualification is important, but it is more important for the players, for Monaco and for French football. It is never easy to reach the last 16. In August, Monaco were regarded as the worst team in the group; tonight we won it. It was difficult for us in the first half, we lacked some aggression, but then we scored.

We were ready. We knew Zenit would be strong in midfield. We created spaces and we took advantage of them. We are top of the group. Our aim was to qualify, but we are top because we are the team who got the most points, so we deserve it. Qualification will not change Monaco's season – the change was in August. This will give the squad more confidence. This win is the players' win.

André Villas-Boas, Zenit coach
We had a good first half, we were controlling the game, but Monaco took charge of the ball in the second period. They were more dangerous on the break. They scored from a free-kick and we were not able to respond. They defended well and are through now. It is frustrating for us, but we will try to have a good run in the Europa League. We played with determination, we wanted to go through.

Before Monaco's goal we had the initiative, but [João] Moutinho, who is a fantastic player, won the game for them with his passing. He was great at defending and attacking. Monaco defended very well. We tried to create opportunities and find spaces, but Monaco sat deep and managed to score on the break. Any result was possible in this group. We knew it would be difficult, even though many people saw us as favourites after the draw.

Zenit have a good tradition in the Europa League, we will try to go as far as we can. We will play as if it was the Champions League. Let's take Benfica's example from the last two seasons, when they went from the Champions League all the way to the final.

Nicolas Lombaerts, Zenit defender
You have to be disappointed after that performance and result. I think we had the lion's share of possession and we couldn't turn that into chances. I think I had the best chance with a header and that was it. In the second half, we collapsed, and I think the fatigue of the whole season told – we couldn't change the game.

Zenit goalkeeper Yuri Lodygin
Zenit goalkeeper Yuri Lodygin©AFP/Getty Images

At half-time we believed we could do it. We tried to make more opportunities, but we couldn't do that. Unfortunately, we disappointed in the second half. We didn't play well. We weren't searching for the simple solutions. We ran with the ball too much and then you lose it – those things happen. It's a big disappointment.

Axel Witsel, Zenit midfielder
There was definitely the opportunity for us to do better. We all wanted to win this game because we had to in order to qualify. We played well in the first half, we might have scored, but we lacked a little luck. In the second half, we didn't play as we had done in the first. We gave them a little too much space to counterattack and Monaco took advantage.

I don't think we took enough shots at goal. We kept possession but without being really dangerous and creating chances. We didn't really have a good opportunity. In the second half, it was more difficult, and when you go 1-0 down and 2-0 down and there's only 15 minutes left, it becomes very tough.

Throughout the group stage, we didn't score at the right times. We lacked a clinical streak. When you have chances, you have to score, such as in the game at home to Leverkusen. We didn't and our opponents took advantage. In the Champions League, the standard is so high that – in those kinds of moments – you always have to be at your best.

We are now going on holiday, to take a breather and enjoy being with our families. We must have the aim of going as far as possible in the Europa League, because it's a competition that won't be easy at all. There will be some big teams. We need to be aiming to go as far as possible and domestically to be champions.