Europa League Round of 16, Leg Two
Thursday 15 March 2012, 20.05 KO
City: Hart, Richards, Savic, K Toure (c), Kolarov, Y Toure, Pizarro (Dzeko 55), A Johnson (de Jong 45), Silva (Nasri 66), Aguero, Balotelli
Unused: Pantilimon, Clichy, Milner, Roman
Goals: Aguero (60, 83), Balotelli (pen 75)
Booked: Y Toure, Kolarov, Savic, Balotelli
Referee: Tom Hagen
Man of the Match: Sergio Aguero
Despite the home side needing two goals to get into the next round from the kick off, it was the visitors who started the brighter. Insua headed just over from an early Sporting corner, while City struggled to get any passes together, preferring instead to look for the long ball over the top. Balotelli slipped as he was played in, before he was free on the right flank and found by Silva, but the defender got a toe to the ball before he could pull the trigger.
Fernandez looked for a penalty just before the half hour, going down in the area under a challenge from Savic, but the Serbian won the ball. A minute later, he went into the book for diving in the box, this time under pressure from Kolo Toure. But then, minutes after, he made his impact on the game: He buried a free kick from the left side of the box into the far corner; Hart got a hand on it, but couldn’t do anything to keep it out.
With just over five minutes of the half to play, City’s uphill task became a mountain. Izmailov found acres of space on the left flank and crossed the ball low for van Wolfswinkel at the back post. He couldn’t miss, smashing the ball into the roof of the net and giving the visitors their second away goal and a two-nil lead. City needed to score four or they were out of the competition, but they hadn’t looked like scoring once in the first half.
But the second half was a different story. Sporting seemed happy with their two-goal haul and sat back, while City went for broke. Though, despite beginning to dominate possession, City were struggling to fashion shooting a shooting chance. Mancini introduced Dzeko and, five minutes later, his presence in the box allowed Aguero to find space. Yaya Toure picked him out and the Argentine slotted the ball home, giving the hosts some faint hope.
Kolarov curled a free kick just wide, shortly after, before he curled a corner into the box and it was narrowly missed by both Balotelli and Dzeko, as the hosts looked for their second goal. But, with 15 minutes to play, Aguero was felled in the box and the referee pointed to the spot: Balotelli stepped up and coolly rolled the ball into the net. The game on the night was level, but City still needed two more goals to qualify for the next round.
As the visitors began to waste time, Nigel de Jong tried to hurry things up as Pereirinha went down softly by the touchline – the Dutchman tried to pick the Sporting man up and roll him over the line, so the hosts’ onslaught of Rui Patricio’s goal could continue.
With seven minutes to play, a corner into the Sporting box took a touch and found its way to Aguero. The goalkeeper was wrong-footed and City’s leading scorer volleyed the ball into the back of the net. The comeback was well and truly on, despite looking so unlikely at half time and the tie was level, though the visitors were going through thanks to their two away goals.
It was almost City’s night a minute later, as Kolarov delivered a wicked ball onto Dzeko’s head. The Bosnian, though, couldn’t climb high enough and couldn’t get over the cross. The effort was just over the bar. Balotelli then got on the end of a Kolarov cross, but his header took a deflection and dropped behind for a corner. City were knocking, but the Sporting door was just about holding firm.
With the board up for stoppage time, Aguero burst into the box and held onto the ball. His momentum took him too far wide, though, and, despite firing it low and hard, his cross was swallowed up by the visiting goalkeeper, with Balotelli trying to get on the end of it.
As the game ticked to the final 30 seconds, City won a corner and piled everybody into the box – including Joe Hart. The first ball in was cleared as far as de Jong and the second cross found the City keeper at the back post. He shrugged off the challenge and headed at goal. It was going in at the back post until the fingertips of Rui Patricio pushed the ball wide. But there was no time to take the resulting corner.
City had gone out of the Europa League, but while the second half fight back wasn’t enough, it should give the blues some inspiration for the coming league games.