Two inescapable truths emerged from Manchester City’s highly controversial Champions League draw with Ajax – the first that City were cheated out of a crucial win, the second that Roberto Mancini’s side are not yet ready to sit at the top table of European football.
There can be no disputing that City could and should have beaten the cultured Dutch champions 3-2, possibly even 4-2.
The fact they didn’t lies with the criminal decision-making of Danish referee Peter Rasmussen and his quartet of calamitous clowns masquerading as UEFA match day officials.
In disallowing Sergio Aguero’s 88thminute ‘winner’ and then refusing a ‘stonewall’ penalty after Mario Balotelli was unceremoniously hauled down in literally the last second of the game, Rasmussen virtually sealed City’s exit from Europe’s elite footballing stage.
The rank ineptitude – or perhaps something more sinister – of the officials, robbed City of one of the most memorable comebacks in the club’s history and with it, the chance of storming back into contention in the incredibly competitive Group D.
It leaves the bitterest of tastes to be denied the win, but it’s a win that seemed impossible as City’s dozy defensive work gift-wrapped a two goal advantage to the technically superior Amsterdam.
A mysterious malaise afflicts City in their European adventure this season. Stocked full of top quality international stars, City seem incapable of switching between the demands of the Premier League and Champions League.
The top tier of English football is renowned for its pace and passion, attributes that send global viewing figures sky high and pour untold millions into the Premier League’s coffers.
But that verve and vitality is no match when English teams face up to continental counterparts who don’t squander possession and are less profligate in front of goal.
Mancini’s persistence in deploying zonal marking was once again under scrutiny as the top defence in the Premier League last season conceded goals softer than a memory foam mattress.
The entire City back line may as well have been deep in slumber as they adopted a cataleptic stance while Siem De Jong put Ajax ahead from the acutest of angles in the 10th minute.
Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry appeared zoned out seven minutes later when De Jong eluded them to send a deft near post header from Christian Eriksen’s corner into Joe Hart’s gaping goal.
Ajax up 2-0 and City looking outclassed, outpaced and quite simply out of the CL.
The body language of City’s players screamed defeatism as they traipsed to the centre circle re-start. In contrast Ajax were positively buzzing as if they’d been feasting on ‘space cake’ – the infamous culinary delight served in Amsterdam’s cannabis ridden coffee shops.
It was left to the man with the deceptively lumbering gait, Yaya Toure, to get City’s guns smokin’ with a flash of brilliance.
Industrious, but oft frustrating, Samir Nasri hit a teasing cross into the Ajax 18 yard box. The Ivorian giant controlled the chest high ball letting it drop as he swivelled to lash a sublime volley past keeper Kenneth Vermeer.
Ajax’s young whippersnappers continued zipping the ball around with precision and purpose as City continued to labour at a pedestrian pace. The contest was finely balanced, unlike the usually lethal Sergio Aguero, who did his best Bambi on ice impersonation on three occasions, slipping at crucial moments.
Mancini showed tactical savvy withdrawing the strangely nervous and ineffective Javi Garcia at half time and replacing him with Mario Balotelli.
City’s upped their rev counter, showed more urgency and began to negate the crisp incisive Ajax play. They were rewarded when an excellent headed knock on by Balotelli left Aguero in a foot race, outstripping the lime green clad Ajax defence before drilling home a deserved equalizer.
The goal justified the contentious withdrawal of Carlos Tevez – instead of Aguero – when Edin Dzeko had entered the fray moments earlier. Mancini’s final throw of the dice saw Kolarov replace the honest endeavour of Gareth Barry.
It was the Serbian’s sweet left foot that set up Aguero’s phantom winner. Dzeko fed the ball wide left, Kolarov drove the ball hard and low and Aguero whipped the ball past the helpless Vermeer.
For a split second it was May 13thall over again. Mission Impossible had become Mission Improbable had become Mission Accomplished – and then came the wrongly raised linesman’s flag.
If it was possible to have a shred of sympathy for the linesman in making an honest mistake, there was no clemency on offer for the rancid Rasmussen or the idiot ‘Additional Assistant’ patrolling inches from the Ajax goal line in the last second of the game.
Ajax full back Ricardo Van Rhijn decided to get Balotelli’s shirt off his back before the final whistle with an outrageous foul – never in the history of the game was there a more obvious penalty!
Rasmussen blew his whistle but his two handed gesture to the centre circle signalled game over, rather than pointing to the penalty spot. Balotelli went ballistic, Mancini went mad and Rasmussen went into notoriety as the man who cooked City’s Champions League bacon.