MAN CITY 3, SPORTING LISBON 2
(3-3 on aggregate, Sporting win on away goals)
MANCHESTER City’s hopes of landing the European consolation prize of victory in the Europa League was dashed by Sporting Lisbon on a dramatic night at the Etihad Stadium.
After their elimination from the Champions League, City had been fancied to go all the way to the final of Europe’s minor club competition which is to be staged in Bucharest, Romania.
However, Roberto Mancini’s men bowed out of the last 16 against their Portuguese opponents as City produced a Jekyll and Hyde display in the space of the same match.
It was a bizarre tie in which City made a woeful start and were 2-0 down at the break and 3-0 on aggregate and seemingly out for the count.
But in a remarkable turnabout, City pummelled Sporting in the second period when they came within a whisker of pulling off mission impossible.
They scored three goals in the final half hour to win on the night, but lose out on the away-goal rule, having had two chances at the death to snatch a victory which looked impossible after an hour.
The elimination was of massive disappointment to City manager who said: “I was proud of our second-half performance as we played a fantastic 45 minutes.
“In the first game we didn’t play well and deseved to lose and in the first half we didn’t play.
“I am manager and probably made mistakes. After beating Porto may be I thought it would be too easy, but in football it is never easy.”
Looking back on the game, Mancini continued: “I think the first half was strange. We left them too much space on the counter attack and didn’t play as a team.
“We expected the counter attack and didn’t do a good job in the first half.
“In football never say never if you score two goals in 20 minutes. We could have scored the fourth after scoring three goals.”
It was clear from the start that City were in for a tortuous night as there was no tempo to their game and they carelessly gave away possession time and time again.
Sporting, by contrast, were comfortable on the ball as they patiently bided their time before striking.
It was a measure of how poor City were in the opening half that their only clear-cut chance was an Adam Johnson volley which flew well wide.
Xandao saw an early header drift narrowly wide for Sporting who took the lead in the 33rd minute when Mario Balotelli needlessly conceded a free kick just outside the penalty area and Matias Fernandez found the top corner of net with a fabulous free kick.
And City’s task became even more mountainous seven minutes later when Sporting doubled their advantage.
They were opened up by a neat passing moved which ended with Marat Izmailov squaring the ball for Ricky van Wolfswinkel to shoot high into the roof of the net.
City brought on Nigel de Jong at the restart and Edin Dzeko not long after and they helped provide the spark which had been lacking in the opening half as there was far more spirit to their play in the second period.
They were also rewarded with a goal on the hour as Yaya Toure provided the pass for Sergio Aguero to shoot high into the roof of the net for his 22nd goal of the season.
City drew level on the night and reduced the overall deficit to 3-2 with 16 minutes left when they won a penalty following a foul by substitute Renato Neto on Aguero.
Balotelli stepped forward to coolly score from the spot to score his 15th goal of the campaign to set up a pulsating finale as City sensed they could score the two goals needed.
It got even better for City when they went ahead on the night in the 82nd minute. Dzeko flicked on a corner from Aleksandar Kolarov and Aguero at the far post hooked home a shot.
City had a great change to snatch overall victory in the 88th minute when Balotelli glanced a header agonisingly wide from a Kolarov corner.
Then in the sixth minute of stoppage time, City were denied again when keeper Hart went upfield for a corner and connecting with the aplomb of a seasoned striker but saw his header brilliantly saved by opposite number Rui Patricio, the last action of a pulsating second half.