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Anderlecht complete mission improbable at AEK's expense

RSC Anderlecht 2-0 HNK Hajduk Split
Staring down the barrel, Anderlecht kept their side of the bargain to pounce on AEK Athens FC's slip and finish second in Group G.

Ivan Strinić (left) chases Anderlecht's Guillaume Gillet
Ivan Strinić (left) chases Anderlecht's Guillaume Gillet ©AFP

RSC Anderlecht won 2-0 at home against HNK Hajduk Split to tiptoe into second place in UEFA Europa League Group G and secure an unlikely place in the round of 32.

Though Ariël Jacobs' team kept their side of the bargain with minimal fuss thanks to Tom De Sutter's 12th-minute opener and Matías Suárez's soother, their fate was not in their own hands. AEK Athens FC had a three-point cushion over the Belgian outfit but lost 3-0 against section winners FC Zenit St Petersburg, allowing Anderlecht to sneak in via their superior head-to-head record.

With such a simple win-or-bust remit,  the hosts could have been forgiven for going gung-ho from the off. Reckless they were not, though, showing admirable early patience to suck the life out of Hajduk, restricting them to just Dinko Trebotić's wayward shot.

Their rewards came early, De Sutter latching on to Silvio Proto's long clearance, holding off Matej Jonjić and finishing calmly off Božidar Radošević's right-hand post. De Sutter may have been at the fore of Anderlecht's hunt for a second, twice firing narrowly wide, but it was his strike partner who stepped up four minutes before half-time. Having cut in from the right and beaten two defenders, Suárez curled delightfully beyond Radošević with the outside of his foot, and the good news kept on coming – Zenit were ahead in Athens.

Though Roland Juhász's header drifted over the bar and Guillaume Gillet's shot also failed to sneak under the frame of Radošević's goal, jangling nerves were replaced by buoyant voices midway through the second half at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. With Zenit now two to the good, Suárez's snatched effort mattered not. Proto got down smartly late on to deny Ante Vukušić and preserve a clean sheet on a perfect night for Anderlecht.