| Chelsea’s Hernan Crespo (top) in an aerial tussle with Sparta Prague’s Vladimir Labant during their Champions League encounter in London on Wednesday. (AFP)
London: European champions AC Milan led a parade of five clubs into the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday after a 1-0 win at Ajax Amsterdam in their penultimate Group H match.
Andriy Shevchenko scored the goal that sealed Milan’s place in the knockout phase when he chested down a 51st minute flighted cross from Cafu and drove home a low left-foot strike from close range that gave Ajax keeper Bogdan Lobont no chance.
In total eight clubs have qualified for the second phase — Milan, Chelsea, Juventus, Manchester United, Monaco, Porto, Real Madrid and VfB Stuttgart.
Juventus, Monaco and Real had made sure of their places earlier and the remaining eight places will be decided after the final group stage matches on December 9 and 10.
Although Uefa Cup places are still up for grabs for teams finishing third in their groups, four clubs were knocked out of the Champions League on Wednesday — Rangers and Panathinaikos (Group E) and Olympique Marseille and Partizan Belgrade (Group F).
VfB Stuttgart’s 1-0 win over Rangers, after Timo Wenzel volleyed home in first half stoppage time, ensured their place in the second phase along with Manchester United, who won 1-0 at Panathinaikos thanks to an 85th minute goal from Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan.
Porto clinched their passage into the last 16 after a 2-1 home win over Partizan Belgrade, with South African Benni McCarthy scoring twice, meaning they go through to the knockout stage from Group F along with already-qualified Real Madrid.
Madrid won 2-1 at Marseille after David Beckham opened the scoring with a trademark 35th minute right-foot free-kick. Ronaldo struck a superbly-executed 73rd minute winner with the outside of his right foot for Real’s 600th goal in European competition after Mido’s 63rd minute equaliser.
A quick break involving Luis Figo, Beckham and Raul created the opportunity for Ronaldo to score the landmark goal to delight Real’s all-time great Alfredo Di Stefano, watching from the stands, but a current great had a relatively quiet night.
Zinedine Zidane, returning to the city of his birth and playing against the side he supported as a boy, was one of Real’s least effective performers on a bitter-sweet night for him personally, but he still received a standing ovation from his countrymen when he was substituted five minutes from time.
“Marseille cannot have any regrets about this match,” said Zidane. “I would have preferred that Marseille had qualified and I am the first to be disappointed.
“It went well for Real tonight and we can be happy with how we’ve done in the tournament until now. We played our game and I think our victory was deserved,” said Zidane, who last played against Marseille 10 seasons ago when he was sent off playing for Girondins Bordeaux.
Chelsea, tipped by some as possible winners of the competition, looked anything but European champions in a drab goalless draw at Stamford Bridge against Sparta Prague, although the point was enough for them to reach the last 16.
Sparta can still qualify as can Lazio and Besiktas, who drew 1-1 in the other Group G match in Rome to keep their chances alive.
Besiktas glimpsed the Promised Land of the knockout phase briefly after taking the lead with a penalty in first-half stoppage time from Daniel Pancu. But Lazio kept their chances alive with a 56th minute equaliser from Roberto Muzzi.
Besiktas need to beat Chelsea in their final group match to ensure they go through but will have to do that without home advantage after Uefa ruled the tie must be switched from Turkey to a neutral venue after last week’s bombings in Istanbul.
Juventus and Monaco, who did not play on Wednesday, had already qualified for the knockout stage which starts on February 24.