Max Meyer’s second-half goal proved enough to earn Schalke a hard-fought victory in Slovenia, as the Gelsenkirchen club finished Group G in second ahead of Sporting Clube de Portugal, who lost to Chelsea FC on Wednesday.
Tranquillo Barnetta was first to try his luck for the visitors with a long-range drive after just five minutes, before the Switzerland international nodded Marco Höger’s pin-point cross past the right-hand post soon after. Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, however, clear-cut goalscoring chances were proving difficult to come by for Roberto Di Matteo’s men, who were given their first warning when Ralf Fährmann denied Marcos Tavares mid-way through the half.
The home side came close to taking the lead shortly after, Atsuto Uchida first clearing Zeljko Filipovic’s header off the goalline before doing well to block Tavares' effort on the rebound. Schalke regained control as the first half progressed, though, with both Barnetta and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar spurning promising opportunities before the interval.
The Netherlands striker should have broken the deadlock nine minutes after the restart when he struck the foot of the post following some suspect defending, but substitute Meyer finally gave the guests the lead with just over an hour gone, slotting in after Maribor custodian Jasmin Handanovic had failed to clear Höger’s cross.
Schalke remained in clear control following the opener and continued to press forward in search of a decisive goal. Meyer and Dennis Aogo both went close with efforts from distance, while Zeljko Filipovic fired wide on one of Maribor’s few forays forward after the break, as the guests held on to secure their place in the knockout stages of Europe’s premier club competition.
Maribor: Handanovic - Stojanovic, Arghus, Rajcevic, Viler - Mertelj, Filipovic - Sallalich, Bohar - Ibraimi, Marcos Tavares
Schalke: Fährmann - Neustädter, Kirchhoff, Höwedes - Uchida, Fuchs - Aogo - Barnetta, Höger - Choupo-Moting, Huntelaar
Goal: 0-1 Meyer 62'