|photo by bere||via PhotoRee|
Tie askew, Jose Mourinho looked slightly disheveled as Real Madrid's first round Champions League matchup with Manchester City got underway last night at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. Sitting slumped in the shadows of his black leather sideline chair, his face partially obscured, the Only One looked as if his team's poor early season performance was weighing significantly on him. The Madrid Bossman's agitated state contrasted sharply with the suave visage of his opposite City number, Roberto Mancini. But while Mou may have appeared unsettled, it was the neatly coiffed Italian coach's defense which began the game looking completely unhinged, as the home side took the attack straight at the visitors from the opening whistle.
Cristiano Ronaldo made Vincent Kompany -- no less than the all-consensus best defender in the BPL last year -- look average at best in a one-on-one situation in the game's opening ten minutes, and only a fine save by City 'keeper Joe Hart kept the Spaniards from taking the early lead. When Ronaldo beat Maicon again a few short minutes later, flashbacks of Gareth Bale must have been running through the City fullback's mind even as Joe Hart bailed him out -- this time managing to deny Ronaldo's effort despite the misdirection afforded by Gonzalo Higuain's headed touch immediately in front of the City goal.
If the Spaniards were unable to take advantage of their early dominance, City found it difficult to maintain even the slightest scrap of possession in the game's first half. It was only through one of Ya Ya Toure's trademarked rampages through the middle of the pitch that City sent a brief reminder that there was more than one team intent on scoring for the evening.
Even the normally industrious Carlos Tevez was reduced to a mere spectator by City's conservative gameplan, a development Mancini sought to alleviate by switching to three at the back as the second half began. As the game clock hit an hour, though, the result was more of the same: City struggling to leave their own end, and Marcelo's missile just the latest development to tease the Madrilleno fans: almost, but not quite good enough.
It was when bodies began bouncing off Toure like cartoon bullets off Superman that the crowd finally sensed something special in the offing -- an event confirmed by recent sub Eden Dzeko's fine finish that handed City a stunning 1-nil smash and grab lead.
While City's goal may have been shocking, the equalizer was slightly less so. Coming on the heels of his two stupendous prior efforts, Marcelo's 77th minute curler should have surprised no one -- least of all City Captain Vincent Kompany, who politely allowed the Madrid marksman as much room as he needed to uncork his shot.
Having been denied the opportunity to roam forward, a newly liberated City now found pleasure in their late game attacks, as the pitch opened up and opportunities were spurned at both ends. As if fueled by this re-discovered sense of belief, Alexander Kolarov's free kick swerved past Xabi Alonso's outstrecthed leg and past Madrid 'keeper Iker Casillas' outstretched arm to hand the Citizens their second lead on the evening.
But if City thought they had won the game with less than five minutes to play, they must have forgotten that this Madrid team is no rag tag bunch of cast-offs, and an evening at the Bernabeu no Sunday walk in the park. Karim Benzema's corner effort hoisted the home team on level terms yet again with less than three minutes to go in regulation time. Enduring some nervy moments at the end, City managed to convince themselves that they had hung on -- just -- to claim a surprise and likely deserved point in their early round encounter in Madrid.
But to think any game with Cristiano Ronaldo is over before the final whistle is to open yourselves to a large dip in emotion -- the same drop Ronaldo's wicked curler took in fooling Joe Hart for the winning effort -- an event which caused the sad Ronaldo and depressed Mourinho to gain a similar appearance -- sliding on the ground, their faces filled with smiles.
This is farlieonfootie for September 19.