A late penalty from Mario Balotelli allowed Manchester City to avoid a potentially disastrous defeat to an exceptional Borussia Dortmund side at the Etihad.
The German champions attacked with vigor and conviction throughout the 90 minutes and City were left thanking a stunning showing from goalkeeper Joe Hart to prevent a heavy defeat. Dortmund finally got the goal their play deserved through Marco Resus in the second-half and, after Robert Lewandowski had spurned a gilt-edge chance to seal victory, Balotelli rescued City in the final minute.
Featuring the champions of England and Germany, both with high hopes of going far in this season’s competition, the match promised much and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
There was an early indication of the action-packed night that was to follow as Samir Nasri forced a good early save from Roman Weidenfeller with a shot from the edge of the box. While Pablo Zabaleta also fired over on his weaker left side when well positioned, it was Dortmund who had the better opportunities throughout.
Particularly influential was Mario Gotze, who caused City all kinds of problems breaking from midfield. His first attempt of many came after a square ball from Lewandowski on the edge of the box that led to a strong shot from 16 yards that Joe Hart did well to turn onto the outside of the post.
After a brief lull midway through the opening period, the half exploded once again late on. David Silva was trying to make something happen for the home side and twice set up Aguero for shooting opportunities. First Weidenfeller came rushing out to deny the Argentine and then tipped over a shot from the edge of the box.
Silva almost led to his side’s downfall at the other end as a poor clearance across the edge of the box fell to Neven Subotic who struck a crisp volley that just cleared the cross bar.
While Dortmund looked to contain City when without the ball, time and again they countered with soaring pace.
Gotze surely couldn’t understand how he failed to score as he was twice denied by Hart in a matter of second five minutes before the break. First Hart denied him at the near post after a clever flicked return by Lewandowski and then the England goalkeeper made an even better save to push the midfielder’s powerful half volley from close range onto the cross bar.
City’s best chance of the match fell late in the opening period as Zabaleta produced a good cross from the right that Silva couldn’t adjust his body to and volleyed over on his less favored right foot.
The first-half show came to an end as Ilkay Gundogan collected a cross and dugs out a left-footed shot that led to another fine save from Hart.
There was to be no left off after the break as Hart was soon called into action once more. Gotze was again the man to threaten this time with a fine first-time effort that curled away from Hart, but not with enough venom to beat the City stopper who tipped wide.
It seemed unfeasible that the match would end goalless and so it proved. For all the admirable play on show, it proved to be a City error that paved the way for the opening goal. Jack Rodwell, on for the injured Javi Garcia, played a blind ball across the pitch 30 yards out that Marco Reus seized on and burst through into the area before firing back across goal and this time Hart couldn’t keep it out despite getting a hand to the ball.
City looked to come back and another substitute Aleksandr Kolarov made a more positive contribution as he played Aguero through, but Weidenfeller was again equal to the forward’s effort.
With City having to pour increasingly forward, Dortmund were always liable to have further chances as they looked to win the ball back and break at pace. Gundogan was the perfect embodiment of that philosophy as he burst forward down the right and supplied a stunning low early cross that Lewandowski looked certain to finish from eight yards but put it wide with the outside of his right foot.
Next, Aguero came close for City with a header tipped wide by Weidfenfeller. It was from the resulting corner that City were awarded their penalty as Aguero’s volley struck the arm of Subotic from close range. There was no intention, but with the defender’s arm away from his body, it was the right call by the officials.
Having not long come onto the pitch, Balotelli stepped up in typically confident fashion with a stutter step and waited for the goalkeeper to move before sliding it the other way.
Incredibly there was still time for further chances for Dortmund as Reus volleyed over with his left foot before a rasping drive from Lewandowski called Hart to make another excellent stop.
City, though, survived and their Champions League campaign lives to fight another day. But only just.