Manchester City 1-1 Borussia Dortmund: Balotelli penalty flatters City as Dortmund run riot
Mario Balotelli earned his side a draw with a 90th minute spot-kick after the battle of the English and German champions ended with more worries for Roberto Mancini in Europe.
The score-line, if anything, proves nothing more than the unpredictable and deceiving nature of football after Dortmund made themselves at home at Eastlands, set out to school their hosts in the art of the game.
After Joe Hart produced one of the great English goalkeeping performances in modern memory, Marco Reus finally opened the scoring for the visitors.
Not only was it deserved but also perhaps universally appreciated by all neutral onlookers, eager to see the bright, slick play from the Germans amount to some reward.
What a pity it was then that the side were so cruelly thwarted in the final throes by a bizarre handball decision against defender Nevan Subotic. Balotelli did the rest, as he always does from 12 yards.
Yet again Mancini’s starting line-up was the source of much debate before a ball had been kicked, with Matija Nastasic again preferred to Joleon Lescott and Edin Dzeko replacing Carlos Tevez after his winner against Fulham last weekend.
However, it was Dortmund who made all the early running in the first half of this encounter, forcing Joe Hart into action on countless occasions.
Dressed in their traditional yellow and black hoops, the Bundesliga winners swarmed the City box like angry bees.
Mid-field maestro Mario Gotze was chief orchestrator, buzzing brightly in and around the home side’s rear-guard, forming a menacing triad with Robert Lewandowski and the equally impressive Reus.
Indeed it was Gotze who forced the first save from Hart, stinging his fingertips with a rasping drive which the England international superbly diverted onto his right hand upright and out to safety.
Dortmund’s own stopper Roman Weidenfeller wasn’t too shabby either, patrolling his area before an army of travelling Germans, all jumping, clapping and banging their drums in rhythmic synchrony.
And he had to be at his best to deny the returning Samir Nasri and a lively Sergio Aguero with smart blocks.
Again he excelled when faced by the Argentine striker, pushing over a pile-driver into the sea of black and yellow behind him.
But in a night of sublime goalkeeping performances, it was Hart who commanded the lion’s share of attention, again denying Gotze on two separate occasions.
First, he spread himself like a starfish to beat the ball away before somehow halting the masterful playmaker again by pushing a shot onto the frame of the goal.
Another playmaker in rather more modest form, David Silva, produced a wretched finish from a rare piece of cohesive City play.
Again this proved to be nothing but a blip in the general scope of the game, as Dortmund continued to showcase smooth yet relentless attacking football, finishing the half by working Hart once more from Ilkay Gundogan’s effort.
As the second half unfolded, Dzeko and Gotze were denied at either end, but when Jack Rodwell, a replacement for the limping Javi Garcia, executed a poor back pass, his keeper could do nothing as Reus nipped in and swept the ball home.
From that moment, Dortmund assumed utter domination, Hart continuing to wow spectators and defy logic by again withstanding efforts from Gundogan and, you guessed it, Mario Gotze. As the clock ticked down, the away side’s confidence refused to wane and City grew desperate.
That was until Aguero, the shining light in an otherwise concerning display, thudded a volley against the arm of Subotic to earn the luckiest of reprieves.
Manchester City must now travel to Ajax in a fortnight’s time, knowing that anything but a win will see them eliminated from Europe’s top competition in the group phase for the second year running.
They must do so without their suspended captain Vincent Kompany, who somehow managed to connect with more than Mario Gotze’s shadow in the first half to earn him a yellow card which rules the defender out of the showdown in Amsterdam.
Any onlooker foolish enough to think City should expect to finish above their German rivals in this “group of death” will no doubt have endured a serious reality check last night, so too the Premier League champions themselves.
Saturday’s last gasp victory at Craven Cottage did much to mask what is a growing collection of blemishes on their expensive complexion as the new season unravels. Defensively, bar the miraculous Hart, they look disjointed and unsure of themselves.
As for their manager, watching Dortmund waltz onto the Etihad turf and pull his carefully assembled side limb from limb will surely leave him much to ponder, as he will know more than any other progression into the knock-out phase of a competition he has continually failed in is the very least that is expected.
Jamie Murphy, Football correspondent