Joao Pedro made sure Brighton avoided the inconvenience of a Europa League play-off as his superb strike made sure the Seagulls edged Marseille to the top of Group B with a 1-0 victory.
Brazilian Joao Pedro crashed in an 89th-minute winner to continue Brighton’s dream first European campaign.
The 1993 European Cup winners, Marseille, struck the post and the bar through Jonathan Clauss and Amine Harit – and they will now face one of the Champions League third-placed finishers – Galatasaray, Lens, Braga, Benfica, Feyenoord, AC Milan, Young Boys or Shakhtar Donetsk – while Brighton skip straight to the last 16.
FT: INTO THE LAST 16 OF THE #UEL!
— Brighton & Hove Albion (@OfficialBHAFC) December 14, 2023
Simon Adingra was offered the match’s first chance in the seventh minute when he skipped in from the right to curl powerlessly towards Pau Lopez.
One of the storylines of the game was Joao Pedro versus Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with the pair the joint-top-scorers of the Europa League group stage with five strikes each.
Joao Pedro always looked likelier to bolster his numbers as he had three half-decent first-half opportunities.
Firstly, the Brazilian could not control the pace of Jack Hinshelwood’s drilled cross and blazed over. Then he had an overhead kick blocked at point-blank range, before the frontman twisted onto his left foot and scuffed towards Lopez.
At the other end, former Arsenal and Chelsea hitman Aubameyang was kept anonymous by Lewis Dunk – who impressed in front of England manager Gareth Southgate.
Kaoru Mitoma also muddied Lopez’s gloves but caused little worry for the Spaniard.
In fact, the closest either side came to a first-half opener was when Clauss found a pocket of space on the edge of the Brighton box in the 15th minute.
The full-back’s shot looped up off Pascal Gross and over a stranded Jason Steele but fortunately for the hosts onto the underside of the bar.
Marseille stuck the frame of the goal again after the break as midfielder Harit fashioned himself space in a crowded box to smash against the base of the post.
Billy Gilmour tried his luck from range and Adingra’s knack of slipping at inopportune moments had him strike over twice.
The final 20 minutes saw any pretence Marseille were attempting to attack ended as they parked 11 players behind the ball and it came back to haunt them.
Substitute Evan Ferguson found a pocket of space in the box but the Irishman could not keep his shot down.
And moments later Joao Pedro notched his sixth goal of the competition with an emphatic finish from just inside the box into the top corner after collecting the ball from Gross.
Roberto De Zerbi, desperate to avoid an extra round, jumped into a section of the home fans to the side of his technical areas as the Amex erupted.