Mario Balotelli rescues precious CL point for Manchester City
London: For Roberto Mancini, there continues to be no sign of improvement to an increasingly desperate Champions League record.
The Italian cut a frustrated figure at Etihad Stadium as Manchester City needed an 89th-minute Mario Balotelli penalty to draw 1-1 against an excellent Borussia Dortmund side.
Substitute Balotelli, who had only been on the pitch for eight minutes, stroked home the spot-kick with ice-cool precision after Neven Subotic had been harshly penalised for hand-balling a Sergio Aguero volley.
It came after Dortmund had created a glut of excellent opportunities only to be denied by a Joe Hart masterclass in goal.
The England No.1 could not prevent Marco Reus giving the visitors the lead after 60 minutes but he was equal to everything else the Bundesliga champions threw at him, making half a dozen outstanding saves.
It kept City in the match and they were able to create enough late pressure to get their second Champions League campaign up and running and bring relief to the home supporters.
Mancini knew City could ill afford another slip-up in a daunting group which pits the champions of Spain, England, Germany and Holland against one another.
But following the opening 3-2 defeat to Real Madrid while Dortmund were beating Ajax 1-0, City have just one point from their opening two Group D fixtures.
Their supporters will need no reminding of the echoes of their debut Champions League campaign last year, when failure to win their first home game against Napoli left them with too small a margin of error thereafter.
The pressure is on Mancini, who has recorded a solitary quarter-final appearance from five previous campaigns with City, Lazio and Inter Milan, to enhance his Champions League credentials.
He will target six points from the forthcoming home-and-away assignments against group minnows Ajax to recover some lost ground.
Mancini made only two changes from the team that beat Fulham 2-1 last Saturday, with Samir Nasri and Edin Dzeko replacing Carlos Tevez and Gareth Barry, who did not even make the substitute’s bench.
Selecting three attacking midfielders to support strike pair Sergio Aguero and Dzeko was a signal of intent from the City boss against a Dortmund line-up he praised before kick-off for their willingness to attack.
One player the visitors did not face was Joleon Lescott, who might be a first-choice centre-half for England following John Terry’s international retirement, but no longer enjoys such exalted status for his club.
He was dropped in favour of Matija Nastasic for City`s opening Champions League fixture, the 3-2 defeat away to Real Madrid, and the Serbian teenager held on to his place after starting ahead of Lescott at Fulham.
Although Mancini has sought to reassure Lescott, the defender will have watched Nastasic and Vincent Kompany keep Dortmund`s attack at bay with a degree of concern about his own future.
Dortmund have made a stuttering start to the new Bundesliga campaign, where they trail leaders Bayern Munich by seven points even though they lie in third place.
Backed by their magnificent 4,000-strong away support, whose chants, rhythmic jumping, scarf waving and drumming provided a constant accompaniment to the match, the visitors more than played their part in a pulsating opening period.
The two teams traded opportunities as they stayed faithful to promises from their managers that they would not hold back but a masterclass of goalkeeping at both ends kept the score goal-less at the break.
Three of City’s best opportunities fell to the lively Aguero, who was denied athletically on each occasion by the excellent Roman Weidenfeller. The Dortmund keeper also kept out Samir Nasri, while David Silva sliced a volley horribly over the bar from inside the six-yard box shortly before the interval.
At the other end, Mario Gotze, the brilliant German prospect, brought the best out of Hart, who was even busier than in Madrid a fortnight ago.
The England No.1 turned an early Gotze drive on to the post and, later, clawed the winger’s half-volley on to the crossbar. Gotze was left shaking his head with disbelief when Hart then charged off his line like a demented bull to deny him from close range.
Hart added to the feeling of goalkeeping invincibility with a point-blank save from the unmarked Ilkay Gundogan seconds before the interval.
It brought to an end a riveting opening spell in which City had enjoyed 63 per cent of possession but managed less shots on target (four to five) than the impressive visitors.
The second half continued where the first finished off, with Hart denying Gotze for the fourth time in the match by flinging himself to his right to tip a rasping effort around his post for a corner.
But Hart’s one-man show of resilience was finally broken after an hour. The catalyst was a terrible mistake from Jack Rodwell, a 33rd minute replacement for the injured Javi Garcia.
Rodwell lost possession after playing a loose pass without looking and his error was pounced upon by the outstanding Marco Reus, who galloped towards goal and lifted the ball past Hart and into the bottom-left corner.
The Dortmund fans erupted in joy and, in perfect English, chided their hosts with a chant of ‘You only sing when you’re winning’.
A one-goal advantage was the very least Dortmund’s adventure deserved and they continued to create some outstanding opportunities on the counter-attack as City played a high line in search of an equaliser.
Reus and Gandogan forced more fine saves from Hart before Robert Lewandowski, who had worked the City defence so well all game, missed an excellent opportunity to double his team’s advantage after 76 minutes.
Latching on to a sumptuous Gundogan delivery from the right, the Pole had the goal at his mercy but he inexplicably sent his toe poke wide of the left upright.
Balotelli made Dortmund pay for their wastefulness. Subotic could consider himself unlucky when he was penalised in the 88th minute for handball, and doubly unlucky that the nerveless Italian was at hand to punish him.
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