Cristiano Ronaldo, the self-styled "sad" man, sent a wave of joy flooding through the Real Madrid support with a spectacular late winner to decide an utterly mesmerising game of football. Almost as good as Ronaldo's 151st goal in 151 games for Real was Jose Mourinho's knee-slide celebration.
The defeated left dispirited but City should still look back with pride on this. This time seven years ago, they were getting knocked out of the Carling Cup by Doncaster Rovers. Now they were giving Real Madrid, the champions of Spain, the fright of their distinguished lives in the Bernabeu. But class will out. Class such as Ronaldo's is priceless.
Both coaches had pulled surprises with their selections. Roberto Mancini started Matija Nastasic, the Serbian centre-half, ahead of Joleon Lescott, and the 19 year-old was immediately immersed in the most demanding of baptisms. After all the question-marks over Real's commitment levels, Mourinho's players were really playing for their manager.
Ronaldo had looked in the mood, responding to the whistle as if it were a starting gun. Barring Lionel Messi in possession, there is no more majestic sight in football currently than Ronaldo in full flight, almost defying physics with his ability to manipulate the ball while maintaining his speed. He kept running at City's defence, twice shooting wide, sharpening his sights, before then electing to work over Mancini's defenders. Ronaldo began with City's captain, effortlessly turning Vincent Kompany but denied by the alert and athletic goalkeeper Joe Hart, the key figure in the first half. Then it was Maicon's turn to receive the Ronaldo treatment. The Portuguese attacker wrong-footed the Brazilian right-back, demanding another good stop from Hart.
Fortunately for City, Hart was at his best. England's No?1 then reacted well to thwart Gonzalo Higuain, who had beaten the attempted offside trap of Kompany and Nastasic.
Mourinho's changes appeared to be working. He had dropped Sergio Ramos, seemingly deeming the Spanish international to be the most culpable for Real's failing in La Liga. Ramos is a powerful figure at the Bernabeu and it was a huge call by Mourinho. Raphael Varane, the tall French 19 year-old, was drafted in to the heart of Real's defence and showed signs of his rich promise, closing down Carlos Tevez brilliantly at one point.
Michael Essien was selected ahead of playmakers like Luka Modric and Mesut Ozil, giving greater steel to central midfield and assistance to Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira in combating Yaya Toure. Essien delivered some useful passes, keeping it simple, looking mainly for Ronaldo, as Real enjoyed almost two-thirds' possession.
The ball particularly enjoyed the company of the graceful and quick feet of Ronaldo. At one point, Real's No?7 zigzagged past Maicon, Javi Garcia and Gareth Barry. Real were dominant, their full-backs Marcelo and Alvaro Arbeloa pushed high up the pitch. Alonso played the quarterback, dropping back, collecting the ball and distributing unerringly around the pitch. Some player.
City then lost Samir Nasri, who hobbled away, rubbing his right hamstring, an injury that places a doubt over his participation against his old friends at Arsenal. Aleksandar Kolarov emerged and took a position on the right, trying to stop the runs of Angel di Maria.
City fans remained in good voice, rather ignoring the elegant white-foamed waves powering towards them. There was some respite from the storm. Toure embarked on one of his express-train runs, eventually picking out David Silva on the right but his pass was slightly behind the Spaniard. Real regrouped, blocking Silva's shot.
Normal service was resumed. Di Maria lifted in a terrific ball, weighted perfectly to clear Kompany, inviting Higuain to volley in but the striker directed the ball over. Still Real kept attacking, kept creating shooting chances. Di Maria curled a shot wide and then dribbled through, a run of gathering danger ended only by Gareth Barry.
As referee Damir Skomina blew for half-time, Hart ran towards the tunnel, turning en route to acknowledge the salute of the City fans. As Skomina resumed proceedings 15 minutes later, Hart's goal continued to be under near siege. Di Maria was in lively form, unleashing a shot that was deflected for a corner.
City broke out briefly, Kolarov storming down the left before overrunning the ball and gifting Real a goal-kick. The force remained with Mourinho's men. Ronaldo back-heeled the ball to send Marcelo down the left. The Brazilian's low cross was hurriedly cleared by Gael Clichy. Mancini then made a hugely significant move, withdrawing Silva and sending on Edin Dzeko. The Bosnian made an immediate impression but his goal was made by an assist from the outstanding Toure.
Once again, the Ivorian powered through the middle, exploiting a slip by Pepe, before releasing Dzeko. He calmly fired past Iker Casillas. Up in the Gods, City fans were rocking with delight, their spirits almost soaring even higher when Toure almost made it 2-0 but hit the side-netting.
Stunned, Real hit back. Mourinho sent on Modric and Karim Benzema but the equaliser came from Marcelo, who worked the ball on to his right foot and then beat Hart with a curling shot that took a deflection off Garcia.
And then came Kolarov. After Benzema had fouled Pablo Zabaleta, Kolarov drilled in the free-kick that swept past Casillas. City fans could not believe their eyes, although Real rallied again. This time it was Benzema levelling, firing a low shot that just eluded Hart.
Real had not finished. Ronaldo beat Hart with one of his special shots that dipped, totally deceiving the City keeper as the Real fans erupted in joy.