MAN CITY 1. NAPOLI 1
Manchester City’s Champions League debut provided a steep learning curve to their aspirations to conquer Europe.
Despite the remarkable progress they have made in recent seasons, they are still lacking the guile and expertise to overcome Europe’s elite as Italians Napoli, also making their bow in the competition, threatened to cause a major upset at the Etihad Stadium
Only a late leveller from left-back Aleksander Kolarov prevented City from making an embarrassing start to their new adventure.
Napoli had five minutes earlier had the audacity to take the lead through Edinson Cavani as they threatened to leave Manchester with all three points after what proved an enthralling contest.
Roberto Mancini later admitted his side had been troubled by big-night nerves on what was one of the biggest occasions in the club’s recent history.
The City manager said: “Before the game we were so nervous because it was our first game in the Champions League and all the players wanted to win the game and also to score.
“I think now this game is out of the way, we will do better in our next one in Munich.”
Mancini thought a draw was a fair result. He was delighted with the first-half performance but thought his side lost its way in the second period in which they over elaborated and gave Napoli too much space.
“It is important we play easy and simple football and, if we do that, we can do much better and it will be easier to score and not to concede,” he explained.
Mancini refused to criticise his front players who squandered a number of chances to cover themselves in glory.
“It is impossible for our strikers to score three or four goals every game. Naples had three central defenders and defended very well. I was happy with their performances,” he continued.
It was clear from the kick off that City would face an examination far tougher than they had encountered so far in domestic football and this would be no stroll in the park.
Napoli, with their three central defenders, were well organised and difficult to break down. City, despite enjoying massive territorial advantage in the opening period, were unable to convert that into goals.
City also had to be alert to the threat the Italians posed on the counter attack through the speedy Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
This was demonstrated when Lavezzi skipped past Vincent Kompany but saw his exquisite curled shot elude keeper Joe Hart only to see it strike the crossbar.
City were also denied by the woodwork as Yaya Toure ought to have found the net following Sergio Aguero’s cut back. Samir Nasri, Aguero and Kolarov also had presentable chances.
The start to the second half followed a similar pattern with Napoli still dangerous on the counter as seen when Marek Hamsik’s angled shot beat Hart only for Kompany to come to the rescue with a goalline clearance.
City still had the lion’s share of the ball but hardly troubled Italian keeper Morgan De Sanctis who only had routine saves to make.
With the City crowd becoming increasingly subdued and the Italians increasing the decibels, there was a need for Mancini to explore new options to try and end the stalemate.
They were silenced with 21 minutes to go when Napoli made yet another counter and this time punished City. Christian Maggio made the break and his slide-rule pass dissected the City defence for Cavani to race clear and slot the ball low through the legs of Hart.
City were desperately unlucky not to equalise four minutes later when Aguero stole in at the near post to meet Nasri’s low cross and was amazed to see his shot strike the crossbar.
When City’s breakthrough came in the 74th minute it was from an unlikely source as Kolarov curled in a deadly free kick which looped over the defensive wall giving De Sanctis no chance.
It was to prove Kolarov’s final touch as he and Nasri were immediately replaced by Gael Clichy and Adam Johnson.
Suddenly the tide turned City’s way. Dzeko and Johnson had chances before Dzeko made way for Carlos Tevez with nine minutes left.
Late on Napoli substitute Goran Pandev almost punished City after a mistake by Kompany while the hosts had appeals for a last-gasp penalty rejected after David Silva went crashing to the ground as the game ended all square.