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Europa door slams shut on Manchester City after yet another failure

Wednesday, 5 December 2012 - 11:37am IST | Place: Dortmund | Agency: The Daily Telegraph
Chasing the consolation prize of a place in the Europa League, City instead finished rooted to the foot of Group D after Borussia Dortmund inflicted another European away defeat on Roberto Mancini's team.

A squad worth in excess of pounds 320million and ambitions of mixing it with Europe's elite, yet all Manchester City have to show for their second assault on the Champions League is the ignominy of posting the worst-ever record of any English club in the competition.

Chasing the consolation prize of a place in the Europa League, City instead finished rooted to the foot of Group D after Borussia Dortmund inflicted another European away defeat on Roberto Mancini's team. But rather than challenge for a place in next May's Champions League final, City have instead erased Ray Harford's 1995-96 Blackburn Rovers team from the record books by amassing just three points and no victories from their six group games.

Mancini's players have at least not turned to trading blows with each other in the manner of Blackburn's David Batty and Graeme Le Saux, but after being beaten by Julian Schieber's second-half goal in Dortmund, the reality is City have been European lightweights, regardless of the clout they possess financially.

With Manchester United due at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, the silver lining from City's European elimination is that they will now have only domestic distractions as they seek to retain the Premier League title.

Having insisted prior to the game that he would take the fixture seriously and field a team capable of securing the victory that could have taken City into the Europa League, Mancini proved true to his word by selecting at least seven players who would be expected to face United.

Although their failure to win any of their previous Group D fixtures had ended City hopes of progression to the knockout stages, their objective in Westphalia was clear as they knew nothing but a victory would suffice if they were to harbour any hope of securing a Europa League lifeline.

Dortmund, on the other hand, were assured of top spot ahead of runners-up Real Madrid. Trailing Bayern Munich by 11 points in the Bundesliga, the German champions hinted at domestic priorities by resting leading scorer Robert Lewandowski and playmaker Mario Gotze.

Yet Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp had insisted he wanted his team to "finish in style" and a full and noisy Signal Iduna Park created a bear-pit atmosphere. Klopp's exciting young team were unfortunate not to leave the Etihad with a comprehensive victory in October, when Joe Hart's goalkeeping heroics earned City a 1-1 draw. But despite their cavalier approach in that game, Dortmund were less ambitious on home turf and City, perhaps sensing the lack of urgency among their opponents, made the brighter start.

Despite the energy of Carlos Tevez, neither goalkeeper was troubled until Oliver Kirch forced a routine save from Hart from 20 yards in the 12th minute. With the giant screens inside the stadium flashing regular updates from Madrid, where Real had quickly built a commanding lead at home to Ajax, City knew that there would be little danger of the Dutch champions securing the victory that would render the outcome of this game as meaningless.

But City simply had to score. Their head-to-head record against Ajax, having lost and drawn against Frank de Boer's team, meant a point here would not be enough, even though City's goal difference was much better than the Dutch team's. It was not until the 24th minute that City gave themselves a sight of Roman Weidenfeller's goal, and even then, Tevez was denied the chance to convert Edin Dzeko's cross following Marcel Schmelzer's clearance in the six yard box. Dzeko forced Weidenfeller into action in the 33rd minute, though, when he turned and shot from distance after being teed up by Matija Nastasic.

The game was clearly for the taking if City wanted it, although Dortmund looked capable of striking at any moment on the counter-attack, a danger emphasised when Marco Reus struck the post shortly before half time. Klopp surprisingly withdrew the impressive Reus at the interval, replacing him with the Polish midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski, but the change did not affect Dortmund's shape and they almost scored an early second-half goal when Mats Hummels narrowly failed to get on the end of Schmelzer's cross.

The near miss roused the hosts from their first-half slumber and City were forced to weather a yellow-and-black storm for the opening 15 minutes of the half, with Hart denying Dortmund with an impressive save to keep out Kevin Grosskreutz's close-range strike. But the England goalkeeper's resistance was finally broken in the 57th minute when Schieber slid in to prod Blaszczykowski's menacing cross into the net.

Hart's reaction, punching the turf in frustration, suggested that poor defending had led to the goal, but it was perhaps inevitable that the dam had to burst at some stage and Schieber delivered the killer blow.

City attempted to fight their way back with Tevez forcing a save from Weidenfeller with a close-range effort on 67 minutes. By that stage, Mancini had introduced Mario Balotelli from the substitutes' bench, but the Italian's only impact was to raise the decibel levels of the home crowd, who jeered Germany's Euro 2012 nemesis mercilessly.

As the minutes ticked away, it was Dortmund who went closest to scoring again, with Hart producing another crucial save to deny substitute Lewandowski. Hart can at least look back on his Champions League campaign with some pride. The same cannot be said for his manager or many of his team-mates.


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