MANCHESTER, England November 7 – Manchester City stand on the verge of a second successive group-phase exit from the Champions League after a 2-2 draw at home to Ajax on Tuesday left their hopes hanging by a thread.
Sloppy defending saw City fall 2-0 down to a pair of early goals from Siem de Jong, and although the English champions rallied and drew level through Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero, the last 16 remains an unlikely objective.
The result left Roberto Mancini’s men with two points from four games and means that even victories in their remaining Group D matches against Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund may not be enough to keep them in the competition.
Mancini confronted Danish referee Peter Rasmussen at the final whistle, after Aguero saw an 88th-minute goal ruled out for offside and substitute Mario Balotelli was denied a late penalty despite having his shirt pulled.
“We scored three goals,” said the City coach, in reference to Aguero’s effort, which was chalked off for a raised flag against Aleksandar Kolarov.
“But we conceded two stupid goals. In a very important game like tonight, you can’t concede two goals from corners.
“We scored the first goal and in the second half, we played fantastic. Now we can do nothing, it’s finished.”
Having out-played City in their 3-1 victory in Amsterdam two weeks ago, Ajax once again showed their class at the Etihad Stadium, and they trail second-place Madrid by three points with two games to play.
“It’s good that the players are disappointed about the result,” said Ajax coach Frank de Boer.
“If we had been a little bit more careful with our chances — often the last pass — we could have scored one or two more in the last five minutes.”
City began the game with intent, Toure making a vain penalty claim and Pablo Zabaleta shooting over from Carlos Tevez’s incisive pass, but two moments of inattention at corners saw the hosts ship two goals in quick succession.
On 10 minutes, Niklas Moisander was allowed to meet Christian Eriksen’s corner and prod the ball goalwards, with de Jong sliding in to squeeze the ball home from close range as it bounced across goal.
Seven minutes later, Eriksen’s delivery came from the left, but City’s defending was just as static.
Toure watched as de Jong ambled away from him at the near post and with Gareth Barry slow to react, the Ajax skipper was able to beat Joe Hart with a well-placed header.
Ajax fans sparked up a chorus of ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,’ but the hosts hit back quickly through Toure, who skilfully chested down Samir Nasri’s deflected cross and hooked a fierce volley past Kenneth Vermeer.
Zabaleta led City’s attempts to find an equaliser, seeing a deflected cross headed off the line by Ricardo van Rhijn and then forcing Vermeer to save with a downward header.
Mancini introduced Mario Balotelli in place of Javi Garcia at half-time, and the visitors soon found themselves defending on the edge of their own penalty area.
Matija Nastasic volleyed over from a Barry free-kick and Aguero had a goal ruled out for offside, before slipping at the crucial moment after taking the ball past Vermeer.
De Jong served a reminder of Ajax’s threat with a pair of 25-yard strikes — the second a free-kick — that both obliged Hart to scramble across his line to save, but City survived and in the 74th minute they drew level.
Hart’s kick was flicked on by Balotelli and Aguero held his nerve to drill the ball into the bottom-left corner from the edge of the box.
Belatedly, the home fans found their voices, and it required a brilliant reflex save from Vermeer to palm away Balotelli’s goalbound header with 11 minutes remaining, before Rasmussen — and Mancini — took centre stage.