Manchester City's Mario Balotelli remonstrates with referee
Peter Rasmussen after their Champions League Group D soccer
match against Ajax Amsterdam. REUTERS/Darren Staples
Manchester City's faint hopes of reaching the Champions
league knockout stage were hanging by a thread after they were
held to a 2-2 draw at home to Ajax Amsterdam in Group D.
The Premier League champions recovered from two goals down to
earn a point and preserve their 18-match unbeaten European
home record through Sergio Aguero's second half equaliser.
Ajax captain Siem de Jong scored twice in the opening 17
minutes to stun the hosts but a quick response from City,
courtesy of a superb piece of finishing by Yaya Toure after
22 minutes, at least breathed life into the match.
Relentless pressure from Roberto Mancini's team was rewarded
when Aguero levelled after 73 minutes but, with only two
points from their opening four games, City need every result
to go their way in the remaining group matches to advance.
To cap an unrewarding evening for the hosts, their volatile
forward Mario Balotelli had to be forcibly prevented from
approaching Danish referee Peter Rasmussen at the final
whistle after he turned down a late penalty claim.
Replays suggested the Italian had a just claim, after he was
tugged in a goalmouth melee, and the unsuccessful appeal may
have major repercussions, not only for City's prospects in
the competition but Mancini's future as manager.
With Borussia Dortmund drawing 2-2 at Real Madrid in the
other match in the section, a City victory would have left
them handily placed with a chance of securing a top-two
Instead they remain bottom of the group after four of their
six group games behind leaders Dortmund who have eight
points, Madrid on seven and Ajax with four.
City paid the penalty for appalling defending in conceding
the goals that put Ajax firmly in control.
After nine minutes, Ryan Babel sent over a dangerous corner
which Niklas Moisander turned towards goal. City had left de
Jong completely unmarked at the far post and the midfielder
converted clinically with Joe Hart's goal at his mercy.
Mancini, who had several defensive absentees through injury,
must have been even less impressed that his team then
conceded an equally poor goal from another corner seven
This time midfielder Yaya Toure was at fault by failing to
follow de Jong as he ran towards the near post to meet
Christian Eriksen's corner and finish with a powerful, angled
The terrible start left City facing elimination from the
group stage for a second consecutive season.
However, Toure quickly made amends with a magnificent piece
of finishing to revive City's fading European aspirations.
Fellow midfielder Samir Nasri, ineffective for most of the
evening, sent over a cross from the right and Toure backed
skilfully into his marker before scoring with a crisp volley
on the turn from six yards.
A header from City defender Pablo Zabaleta might have brought
an equaliser before the interval while de Jong could have
claimed an incredible first-half hat-trick but his long shot
flew just off target.
The introduction of Balotelli at the interval, and fellow
stiker Edin Dzeko midway through the second half, signalled
Mancini's attacking intent.
City's defence may have been brutally exposed at times this
season - particularly in Europe - but their attacking arsenal
boasts talent on a par with most teams.
Hart was still required to make solid stops, from de Jong and
a Lasse Schone free kick, before the almost inevitable
equaliser came courtesy of Aguero.
The Argentina forward raced onto Balotelli's flick-on from
Hart's long kick and outpaced Toby Alderweireld before
scoring, right-footed, from a step inside the penalty area.
Balotelli might have netted with a fine header from a Nasri
free kick, which was well saved by Kenneth Vermeer, and
Aguero had the ball in the net once more only for his effort
to be harshly ruled out for offside against Aleksandar
Then came the late drama, which included another superb save
from Hart to deny Eriksen.