A second half fight back from Manchester City wasn’t enough to prolong their involvement in the Champions League as a 1-1 draw with Real Madrid saw the Spanish champions progress alongside Borussia Dortmund.
In truth City’s exit from the group stage for the second season running had looked inevitable long before the result at the Etihad on Wednesday and the opening stages showed exactly why.
Karim Benzema put the visitors in the lead early on and could have been out of sight by half time. But City produced a rare impressive spell in their Champions League campaign and got back on level terms through a Sergio Aguero penalty that also saw Alvaro Arbeloa receive a second yellow card. But despite the numerical advantage, Roberto Mancini’s side were unable to grab a winner that would have kept their slim hopes of making the knockout phase alive until the final round of matches.
It looked like being another European night to forget for the English champions as Real’s opening strike arrived just 10 minutes in. Angel Di Maria curled in an inviting cross from the right and with the City defense badly exposed, Benzema drifted past Maicon at the back post before finishing first time past Hart from inside the six yard box.
City’s three at the back were continually let wanting in the early stages, with Brazilian wing back Maicon a particular culprit. Twice in a matter of minutes Cristiano Ronaldo was allowed to put dangerous balls in too easily from the left. It was to City’s fortune that Sami Khedira was wasteful on both occasions, first side footing off target before heading wide at the near post.
Ronaldo almost did the damage himself in the 15th minute. Xabi Alonso’s through ball cut the City back line wide open and the Portuguese forward raced clear but his chip from outside the box beat Hart but not the back tracking Matija Nastasic who did well to clear off the line.
It was all too easy for the visitors as Khedira showed by strolling past three defenders on the edge of the box before being halted by the outrushing Hart.
The home side switched to four at the back midway through the half, which at least gave the defense a more solid look to it. But on the ball, City’s play continued to mirror the subdued atmosphere inside the Etihad. The only real threat posed on the Real goal in the opening period was a fine curling shot from Aguero on the edge of the box that forced Iker Casillas to tip over.
It appeared as some serious talking had been done at half time as City came out with some rarely seen impetus. They were nearly rewarded in the early going to as David Silva and Aguero linked up with a quick exchange of passes before the Argentinian’s first touch let him down as he look poised to get in on goal.
Aguero came even closer to an equalizer soon after as Maicon’s cross reached him at the back post but Casillas did miraculously to block the forward’s effort from close range.
The improved performance after the restart did reap its benefits with 17 minutes remaining. Aguero looked to run onto an Edin Dzeko pass down the inside left channel, but Arbeloa bundled him down from behind and the referee pointed to the spot and produced a second yellow card for the Spanish defender.
The penalty was coolly dispatched by Aguero and suddenly the match and City’s slim chance of progressing had been given fresh life.
Buoyed on by a crowd given new voice by the goal City strived to force a winner, but it never truly looked like arriving as the club were left waiting another year to make their mark on the biggest stage.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.