In a section dominated by a Zenit side who qualified tonight, Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s spirited competition debutants made their mark thanks to Sven Kums’s cool-headed penalty four minutes into the second half.
From the first-half evidence it was hard to fathom how Gent – unbeaten leaders of Belgium’s First League – had managed only one point from their opening three Group H skirmishes, including a recent 2-1 Mestalla defeat. The early chances at the KAA Gent Stadium fell to Laurent Depoitre and Kenneth Saief, while visiting keeper Jaume Doménech produced a wonderful save from Kums although the referee’s whistle had already blown.
Danijel Milicevic conjured a remarkable header from Saief’s cross which found the inside of the post before being hacked off the line. Skipper Kums blazed a shot centimetres wide, Brecht Dejaegere somehow directed his free header down and up over the bar, yet the hosts sighed with relief themselves when Lasse Nielsen made a goal-saving clearance from Antonio Barragán’s cross.
The first-time Belgian champions got their reward shortly after half-time when Barragán was penalised for blocking Saief’s cross with a high arm, enabling Kums to slot home from the spot. Until the goal Nuno Espírito Santo’s men had struggled to cope under the incessant pressure, but now Gent keeper Matz Sels was having to make his first save at the feet of Paco Alcácer.
Danijel Milicevic’s cross and a Kums through ball for Depoitre might have yielded a second goal, but as Gent tired so openings emerged for the Spaniards. Kums’s last-ditch tackle denied Pablo Piatti, Renato Neto threw his body into a Daniel Parejo piledriver, then Selz kept out Alcácer. But despite the sea change, there was no way through.