Manchester City can look forward to the Champions League knockout stages for the first time after hammering five past CSKA Moscow at the Etihad Stadium last night.
Alvaro Negredo scored a hat-trick and Sergio Aguero struck twice as City overpowered the Russian champions 5-2 in Group D to reach the last 16 with two games to spare.
It was an achievement that marked the next step in City’s progression and was one of the minimum requirements for Manuel Pellegrini when he was appointed as manager in the summer.
Pellegrini said: “It’s the first step but it’s an important step because we couldn’t do this over the last two years.
“So our first target this year was to qualify for the last 16 and tonight we achieved that.”
City were far too strong for the Russian champions and the result was not in doubt after Aguero hit the opener from the penalty spot in the third minute.
That strike took him clear of Francis Lee as the club’s record goalscorer in European competition but he was not finished there as he added a second after a brilliant turn and shot on 20 minutes.
It was his 12th in Europe for City and 13th of what is proving a prolific season but Negredo was not to be outdone.
Aguero turned provider for Negredo’s first tap-in on the half-hour and the Spaniard struck again early in the second half after Seydou Doumbia had pulled one back.
Doumbia also scored a penalty in the 71st minute but City continued to create chances and Negredo netted another to complete his treble in the final minute.
City now cannot be caught in second place in the group and Pellegrini feels his side could be a match for anyone.
When asked if City could provide a stern challenge to the elite, Pellegrini said: “I think so but, at this level, also every team can beat us.
“There are some important teams in Europe but I think we have a strong squad and we’ll see where we can go in this Champions League.”
After racist chanting overshadowed the previous meeting between the two clubs a fortnight ago, there was also focus on the crowd.
There were some minor disturbances but the game appeared to pass without significant problems.
City midfielder Yaya Toure, who was subjected to monkey chants from a section of CSKA fans in Moscow, paid tribute to the City supporters.
Toure told Sky Sports: “It’s amazing, I think it’s deserved by the club.
“We go through to the second round for the first time and it’s unbelievable.
“I thought we played amazingly well and we have to say thank you to the fans as well. They showed to the fans of CSKA how supportive our fans are.
“We are happy with the win and I think today is a special day for the fans and for the club as well.”