Manchester City exit Europa

2012-03-16 07:14
Roberto Mancini (AFP)

Manchester - Manchester City followed Manchester United out of the Europa League last 16 but only after a spirited second half meant they just failed to get past Sporting Lisbon on Thursday.

Although Roberto Mancini's men won 3-2 on the night, Sporting advanced on the away goals rule at Eastlands just hours after United crashed out in Spain against Athletic Bilbao.

First half goals from Matias Fernandez and Ricky van Wolfswinkel appeared to have killed off any real hopes of City overturning their first leg deficit.

But an early second half goal from Sergio Aguero reduced the arrears and a Mario Balotelli penalty after 74 minutes had City fans dreaming of an unlikely win.

Needing four goals to advance, Aguero scored his team's third after 82 minutes and, in a frantic finale, goalkeeper Joe Hart appeared on the end of a Nigel de Jong cross to head goalwards only for Rui Patricio to keep out his attempt with the last touch of the game after 95 minutes.

The only consolation for City is that they, like United, can now concentrate on the Premier League without the distraction of extra games in Europe.

"I think the first half was very strange," said City manager Mancini.

"We left them too much space on the counter-attack didn't play as a team. We expected the counter-attack and didn't do a good job in the first half. We could have scored the fourth after scoring three.

"In football, never say never if you score two goals in 20 minutes. I'm disappointed because I might have made mistakes and I am sorry for the supporters."

City, reeling from successive losses to Sporting and Swansea, were facing the prospect of a third consecutive defeat and exit from Europe within 40 minutes.

Trailing 1-0 from last week's first leg in Portugal, City saw petulant forward Balotelli set up Sporting's opening goal after 32 minutes when he needlessly pushed Emiliano Insua in the back, conceding a free-kick on the edge of the box.

Fernandez then curled a superb free-kick past the dive of Hart, who could only help the ball into the goal.

If City now faced an uphill task, Sporting's second goal five minutes before the interval seemed to doom them completely.

City full-back Aleksandar Kolarov was at fault as Bruno Pereirinha's pass down the right found the defender out of position and team-mate Marat Izmailov in abundant space.

The forward's superb cross to the far post was met by van Wolfswinkel who converted into the open net.

Nor did the 2-0 half-time lead flatter the visitors, who only stand fourth in the Portuguese league table currently.

The second half opened with City needing four goals to advance and it wasn't until just before the hour mark that their improbable fightback started.

Yaya Toure inspired an attack from the inside right position and his pass into the area found Aguero who took the ball, turned neatly and beat Rui Patricio from seven yards.

Kolarov's free-kick flew into the side-netting and maintained City's second half improvement with Sporting apparently prepared to sit back and soak up the pressure.

It proved a risky tactic after 74 minutes when substitute Renato Neto made a rash lunge at Aguero, tripping him for a blatant penalty, which Balotelli converted with his trademark nonchalant stutter-step walk-up.

And Sporting's casual approach to the second half was further exposed after 82 minutes when Kolarov sent over a corner which substitute Edin Dzeko headed on to the far post where Aguero was poised to drive in his second of the night, and City's third.

After 88 minutes, Kolarov delivered another superb cross from the left, which found Balotelli only for the Italian's glancing header to pass well wide of goal.

Then in the last second of the five minutes of added time -- some of which resulted from the visitors' decidedly unsporting delaying tactics -- de Jong set up Hart for the last scoring attempt of a remarkable tie.

Read more on:    roberto mancini

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