UEFA Champions League Group D
Tuesday 6 November 2012, 19.45 KO
City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Nastasic, Clichy, Garcia (Balotelli 45), Y Toure, Barry (Kolarov 86), Nasri, Tevez (Dzeko 66), Aguero
Unused: Pantilimon, Maicon, Sinclair, Meppen-Walters
Goals: Y Toure (22), Aguero (74)
Referee: Peter Rasmussen
Man of the Match: Carlos Tevez
City started their must-win Champions League brightly, with Vermeer rushing out to steal the ball away from Tevez’s toe, before Zabaleta was neatly played through, but his effort on goal was well over the bar. But, completely against the run of play, City gave themselves work to do by switching off at a corner: de Jong was unmarked at the back post and reached the flick on before anybody else, lifting it over Hart into the roof of the net.
Any hopes of qualifying, though, looked to be on the ropes just seven minutes later. A second corner for the visitors and this time de Jong was left completely unmarked by Yaya Toure, who let him go at the front post and he nodded home from inside the six-yard box. With just 17 minutes played, City had a mountain to climb.
The response took five minutes. Yaya Toure finished brilliantly after a neat chest-trap to volley in at the near post, after Ajax couldn’t clear Nasri’s initial cross. With his back to goal, the Ivorian performed a semi-bicycle kick to leave Vermeer with no chance and halved the deficit.
The goal spurred the hosts on. Zabaleta almost created an equaliser just before the half hour, as he chipped the ball back into the middle from the by-line, but Barry couldn’t quite force it over the line. It wouldn’t have counted, though, as the referee had blown for a foul. The full back almost scored the equaliser two minutes later as he latched onto a Garcia cross, but couldn’t stretch enough to get decent power in his header.
City upped their game in the second half. Nastasic couldn’t keep a volley down from a Barry free kick that was nicely worked, before Yaya Toure smashed a free kick into the Ajax wall. From the rebound, Aguero found the net, but he was correctly flagged offside.
The visitors, though, weren’t out of it and fired a warning shot to City. Eriksen powered an effort at the home side’s net and it needed two strong hands from Hart to get it behind for a corner. De Jong was denied his hat-trick by a brilliant Hart save from a free kick, as the away side looked to put the game beyond doubt.
Aguero broke through the middle and got to the ball before Vermeer, taking it round the goalkeeper in the process. But, just as he was about to pull it back for a supporting player, he slipped and the chance had gone. A moment later, though, and the home side were level: Balotelli rose well to flick on a Hart clearance and Aguero out-paced the defence to get to the ball first. He found the bottom corner and the scores were all square.
With ten minutes to play, City were hunting for a winner to keep their Champions League hopes alive. Balotelli climbed highest in the box the head at goal from a Nasri free kick, but Vermeer was equal to it and pushed it away. Kolarov joined the action and almost immediately created a goal as he fired a wicked cross into the box, but Dzeko couldn’t touch it on target.
In the final minute of the game came the first of two controversial decisions. Dzeko did well to hold the ball up in the box before he laid it off to Kolarov. The Serbian’s cross was neatly converted by Aguero, but the celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag. He’d ruled Kolarov had been in an offside position when the ball to him was played, but it was the wrong call.
And, with the last kick of the game, City were denied a clear penalty. Dzeko flicked the ball to the back post after Hart had pumped a free kick long into the box. There, Balotelli controlled and tried to find a shot, but was hauled to the ground by the covering defender, who was also grabbing a handful of the Italian’s shirt. But, instead of awarding a penalty, the referee blew for full time, much to the annoyance of City’s players, fans and manager.
City can still qualify from the group, but it will require two wins from the final two games and results elsewhere to go in their favour. And, with some of the defensive errors that have been present in the blues’ Champions League campaign so far this season, those two wins feel like they’re a long way away. City cling on to their European lives by the skin of their teeth.