Real Madrid seal knockout qualification with draw in Manchester
It was a game of two halves at the Etihad stadium on Wednesday night, as Madrid and City won a half each, and finished level at 1 – 1. With that and Dortmund’s 4 – 1 win over Ajax, the top two for the group are now decided, and all that remains is the scrap for a Europa league spot. An early goal for Karim Benzema was cancelled out by a Sergio Aguero penalty in the second half, but 10-man Madrid held on to score the single point they needed to secure progress. And with Di Matteo’s exit earlier in the day, Mancini’s hair seems all set to grow paler.
The opening period was dominated by Real Madrid, thanks largely to the defensive formation put out by Roberto Mancini, with most of the game being played in the home team’s half of the pitch. It was good pressure from Madrid, as one would expect from a team of their quality, and it paid off as early as in the 10th minute. A good ball into the box from Angel Di Maria found Benzema, who had slipped in around the back and slotted the ball home past a disbelieving Joe Hart. Mancini was seen with a wry, almost resigned smile which said all that needed to be about Maicon being caught napping, allowing Benzema to jump the offside trap in spite of being goal-side of the French striker.
The warning signs for the City defence were soon ringing again, with Ronaldo nearly doubling the visitors’ lead with a lob over Hart in the 15th minute. An excellently timed run had put the Portuguese star clean through on goal, and Hart was well beaten, only to see the ball cleared off the line by Nastasic. The ball did fall luckily for Ronaldo, though all he could do this time was to deflect it out off a defender for a corner. City’s first attempt on goal came in the 21st minute, as palmed a relatively harmless attempt from Aguero over the cross bar for a corner.
The dominance of the away team was nearly total, with Joe Hart being pressed into action yet again, as Khedira squeezed through the defence for a one-on-one with the English ‘keeper. Khedira seemed to kick the ground, while trying to chip it over Hart, however, and allowed the City #1 to deflect it for a corner. City continued to live dangerously, with Ronaldo, Khedira and Benzema coming close to scoring on more than one occasion. Still, the Sky Blues managed to reach half time with a foothold in the game, keeping the score at 1 – 0 in favour of the away team.
City sent out a team with a more defined shape to it, as Javi Garcia replaced Kolarov, and the result was immediate as City came much closer to scoring in the opening ten minutes than they had in the entire first half. It took a couple of good saves from Iker Casillas to maintain Madrid’s lead as City threatened from various angles, most notably through a close range effort from David Silva. City’s growing influence was reflected by the growing enthusiasm of the home crowd, and they nearly cheered their team on to an equalizer in the 64th minute. Maicon played a late curler into the box that found Aguero about a metre from goal, but the Argentine striker saw his attempt saved brilliantly by Casillas, proving why he’s regarded one of the greats of his trade.
A clean sheet just wasn’t to be for the Spanish stopper, though, as Sergio Aguero first earned, and then scored a penalty to put City on level terms with Madrid. In fact, City even had the numerical advantage, with Arbeloa having seen red for a second yellow card while conceding the penalty, having caught his feet up with Aguero on both occasions. 1 – 1 the score, in the 73rd minute. The rest of the match saw some good pressure from City, but Madrid had a fair bit of possession as well, in the face of no real threat to Casillas’ goal. The young French defender, Raphael Varane, was to thank, in part, for the solid defensive performance from Madrid for the last twenty minutes of the match, and Mourinho as well, for having effected that change immediately after the sending off of Arbeloa. Mourinho, in fact, was a treat to watch on the sidelines, in particular when the board indicating five minutes of added time was held up by the fourth official, when he seemed almost to be grievously wounded, before recovering for some sarcastic applause.
The special one needn’t have worried so much though, as his team saw the match out well, bringing all their experience into play, to knock City out of the Champions League, and sealed qualification to the last-16 of the tournament. Now, with a Europa League spot the only thing left to play for, City travel to group leaders Dortmund in the final round of fixtures, while Madrid will do their best to beat Ajax, to carry some good form into the knockout stages.
Result: Manchester City (Sergio Aguero (P) 73’) 1 – 1 Real Madrid (Karim Benzema 10’)