MANCHESTER CITY 2, AJAX 2
A furious Roberto Mancini confronted the referee and a TV cameraman on the pitch at full time after City appeared to have been denied a goal and a penalty at the end of a dramatic Champions League encounter at the Etihad Stadium. Instead of a famous and vital victory they had to settle for a draw instead leaving them on the brink of an ignominious European exit.
A Siem de Jong double from a pair of corners had put Ajax into an early lead but Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero scored to level the scores before a late Aguero winner was disallowed for offside and Mario Balotelli was controversially denied a strong penalty claim with the last kick of the ball.
With just 2 points, City are 6 points behind leaders Borussia Dortmund and 5 points behind Real Madrid with 2 games to play and although it is still mathematically possible for City to qualify from the group stage their fate is no longer in their own hands.
City striker Mario Balotelli had to be restrained after Danish referee Peter Rasmussen opted to end the game rather than award a penalty after the Italian went down with his shirt being pulled by Ricardo van Rhijn deep into added time.
City already felt robbed after Sergio Aguero appeared to have a perfectly good goal two minutes from time chalked off for offside with Edin Dzeko’s short pass to Aleksandar Kolarov flagged up by the assistant referee before the City full back put his cross in. Replays showed the Serbian was level when Dzeko slipped the ball to him and this only added to the sense of injustice at the end of the game.
After expressing frustration at the media this week, Roberto Mancini could not hide his bitter disappointment at way the game ended and confessed he had not seen the Balotelli penalty incident when he had confronted the referee.
“The referee and his staff were really poor tonight.” said Mancini.
“I’m not the first and not the last to go onto the pitch.” retorted the Italian who defended his actions in remonstrating with the referee on the pitch after the game and a TV cameraman who the Italian felt was being too intrusive.
“I told the referee that I said that [Sergio Aguero’s late goal] was a goal. I didn’t see the penalty incident against Mario. The players told me it was a penalty afterwards.” Mancini continued. “I told the camera man to go and that the game was finished.”
“I think that we scored three goals tonight.” said Mancini, referring to the third goal that had been disallowed. “We conceded two stupid goals. In a game like tonight you can’t concede goals from corners.”
“After that we played very well and fantastically in the second half.”
Despite the slim mathematical chance of progression from the group stage, the Italian was dismissive of City’s chances of qualifying.
“I believe in my team, we have made some mistakes today and we conceded goals against Real Madrid and Ajax with mistakes in the last few minutes. We also had a lot of chances to score today.” explained the Italian.
“We will have eight points if we beat Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. If we get eight points and go through we will win the Champions League!” concluded Mancini.
Ajax manager Frank de Boer would have taken a draw before the game but was pleased that his players felt they could have won at the Etihad.
“It’s a good sign that the players are disappointed about the result, we could make a big step forward to get into the next phase of the Champions League and put City behind us.” said de Boer.
“We gave a cheap goal away and they scored the second goal out of nothing but in the end if you play here you know it’s going to be difficult.” he continued.
“We would have taken 2-2 before the game. The Ajax fans were amazing today.”
“It’s very hard to show the same quality in every match, it’s nothing to do with skills but it’s about the mentality of the team.”
De Boer also felt that Ajax had a stroke of luck with the end-game controversy.
“I thought Kolarov was offside and the referee seemed to have no doubts about it either.” he said.
“I didn’t see the Balotelli penalty incident very well – sometimes you have luck with penalties.”
City were already two goals down after just 17 minutes as their Champions League nightmare continued with a pair of gift-wrapped goals for Ajax midfielder Siem de Jong – both of them from corners. His first came after just ten minutes after Christian Eriksen’s corner was helped on by Niklas Moisander and finished by an unmarked de Jong high into the roof of the net.
The Dutchman was allowed to run unimpeded by Yaya Toure for a 17th minute Eriksen corner from which he silenced the Etidhad with a near post header past Joe Hart leaving Mancini both bemused and frustrated.
A tactical reshuffle followed and Toure atoned for his lax defending by pulling a goal back after 22 minutes when Nasri’s cross was flicked on by an Ajax defender and fell nicely for the Ivorian to lash home an unstoppable volley.
City’s efforts to pull a goal back were impeded by a trio of slips by Aguero in the 21st, 48th and 60th minutes when the Argentine could conceivably have provided a goalscoring chance or taken one himself.
Aguero thought he had levelled the scores early in the second half but he was rightly ruled offside when Gael Clichy put him through.
The Argentine wasn’t to be denied, however, and he gave City hope with a goal on the 74th minute after a long ball out of defence by Hart was flicked on by Mario Balotelli into his path and he did the rest.
City finally stepped up a gear and put Ajax under immense pressure but the dramatic finale was both incendiary and controversial rather than a famous one.