Europa League Round of 16, Leg One
Thursday 8 March 2012, 18.00 KO
City: Hart, Clichy, Kompany (c) (Lescott 11), K Toure, Kolarov, Milner, de Jong, Barry (Nasri 59), Silva, Dzeko (Balotelli 71), Aguero
Unused: Pantilimon, Savic, Pizarro, A Johnson
Booked: de Jong, Kolarov
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo
Man of the Match: Aleksandar Kolarov
The early control of the ball came from the visitors to Portugal, but it was Sporting who had the first half chance of the game. Hart was out quickly to head the ball clear as it bounced past Kolo Toure, before an audacious attempt at a volley over the City keeper landed well wide of the goal, as he scrambled back to the line. There was a blow for City inside the first ten minutes, losing Kompany to injury.
Pereira found space on the edge of the City box and had time to shoot, but his effort was well beaten away by Hart. De Jong and Kolarov then combined to complete the clearance. City’s first corner almost produced the opening goal, as Milner’s short ball to Silva was returned to the Englishman. He crossed and Kolo Toure connected, but the Sporting keeper blocked with his foot and nobody in a blue shirt could get to the rebound.
De Jong lost out mid-way into the Sporting half and it gave the hosts the chance to break with a four-on-three. Thankfully for City, though, Lescott was able to block the initial ball into the box. His clearance fell straight back to the home side, but he made amends, blocking the second cross, with Silva winning a free kick for the visitors on the corner of the box. A short corner was then well worked to Gareth Barry, but his curling effort was just wide of the post.
A deflection from Kolarov gave Hart something to think about, as it looked to be dipping under his crossbar. But the England keeper took no risks, putting the ball behind for a corner. City dealt with the initial ball in, but Dzeko gave it away in midfield and allowed the hosts to get a shot in from range. Hart, though, was able to watch it fly high and wide.
Some quick one touch football for Sporting on the edge of the City box almost fashioned a shooting chance, but first Kolarov, then Lescott and then de Jong all got in vital blocks to make sure that Hart wasn’t called into action. Fernandez tried his luck, but the Dutchman in City’s midfield wasn’t allowing the ball past him in the box. A free kick from deep by Lescott found Dzeko in the box and the Bosnian’s header fell to Aguero, but he couldn’t trouble the goalkeeper.
A low Kolarov cross into the Libson box in the second half caused the home side problems, but both Dzeko and Milner missed the ball and, via a touch from Aguero, it fell to Silva outside the box. His effort, though, was side-footed high and wide, as he tried to curl it into the top corner.
A silly free-kick conceded by de Jong, though, then cost the blues a goal. A shot from Fernandez was blocked by Hart, who was troubled by the bounce right in front of him, and Xandao pounced on the rebound. Hart saved his first effort, but the Brazilian back-heeled past the stranded City goalkeeper at the second attempt, giving the hosts the lead. Hart, though, will be disappointed not to have done better with the original shot.
Aguero tried to react immediately, but he had no support inside the Sporting area and had no option but to fire straight at the goalkeeper from a tight angle. Lescott was then needed to clear the ball over his own crossbar, after City had given the ball away in midfield: The visitors were struggling and the Portuguese were well worth their lead.
Aguero won City a free kick on the left flank just before the hour mark and, with decoys in the box, Milner looked for Kolarov on the edge. He took a touch to control and belted it at the top corner; the goalkeeper was beaten, but so was the post. Just.
A brilliant save from Hart kept the score at one, as van Wolfswinkel found space in the six-yard box, peeling off Toure as Lescott moved to close the cross. The ball found the striker and he thought he’d scored, until Hart blocked it and de Jong cleared the danger. City were hanging on.
Kolarov delivered another low ball into the box, with 20 minutes to play, and Aguero dummied it for Nasri. It threw the Sporting defence, but the Frenchman couldn’t hit it first time and his first touch took him wide, so the best he could do was win the corner. Balotelli then crossed for Silva at the near post and the Spaniard connected, but poked the ball wide.
With four minutes to play, Balotelli connected with a Silva corner at the back post. It looped over the goalkeeper and was close to dropping into the net, but it crashed back off the crossbar and into open play. Lescott, on the rebound, was then adjudged to be offside. Clichy smashed an effort from the edge of the box and it was deflected to Aguero. His touch took him though and he chipped it over the keeper, but was cleared off the line.
City need to turn it around in the second leg.