Mancini fury as Manchester City denied in injury-time
Manchester City 2
A furious Roberto Mancini last night lambasted Danish referee Peter Rasmussen over the two late decisions which have probably consigned Manchester City to an early Champions League exit for the second year running.
Mancini could face Uefa disciplinary action for marching onto the field to berate the official over Sergio Aguero's effort which was ruled offside and the denial of a penalty claim for what appeared to be a clear shirt-pull on Mario Balotelli.
After arguing with a cameraman on the way off the pitch, the Italian was still seething when he gave his first post-match interview. "It was a penalty and a goal -- absolutely," said Mancini. "I said to the referee it was a goal and not offside."
When asked why the official did not give the decisions, Mancini replied: "I don't know. He said nothing. I think we played well; we conceded two goals on two corners but we created lots of chances and scored three goals and had one penalty -- but the referee..."
Mathematically, City are still in with a shout of progressing to the knock-out stages but in truth it is little more than a death-bed whisper.
City, still bottom, must win their last two games and hope Ajax at least draw with Real Madrid, who drew with Borussia Dortmund last night.
In contrast to City's expensive ensemble, Ajax's 18-man squad had been assembled for a shade under £10m, including eight graduates from their academy in the starting line-up alone.
One of them, Ryan Babel, was immediately involved, gliding past Vincent Kompany with alarming ease. City's defence was even more wooden at corners as again Mancini's zonal system was exposed.
City settled briefly early, playing with slightly more urgency than in the Amsterdam ArenA.
Mancini reflected the increased desire, standing at the edge of his technical area, hands in pockets, that scarf wrapped loosely around his neck.
He must have felt like throttling his defence after nine minutes. Or rethinking his zonal tactics.
Twice they were opened up and punished from Christian Eriksen corners. His first from the right was met by Niklas Moisander, the ball falling past blue shirts strung out and as responsive as laundry on a washing line. The unmarked Siem De Jong scored from a relatively tight angle. Joe Hart was left unprotected by his defence, although City's 'keeper could have taken charge more.
After 17 minutes, City really were staring into the abyss as Eriksen curled over a corner from the left and City again resembled statues.
Again De Jong had the telling touch, escaping from Yaya Toure, who seemed tied by rope to his starting position. De Jong carried on and scored with a flicked header at the near post where City had failed to station a sentry. 'Always look on the bright side of life', chanted the joyous Ajax fans.
City were going out without a fight, even without a shout. Finally sensing the gathering ignominy, Mancini's men responded. Samir Nasir crossed from the right and Yaya Toure's response was of the highest order.
Controlling the ball on his chest, the Ivory Coast international despatched a powerful right-footed volley past Kenneth Vermeer. City saw hope.
The noise still came from the visitors. City fans were strangely subdued.
Their Champions League dream was at risk but they continued to be outsung by the Dutch. There was no anger, no raging against the dying of their Champions League light.
City still pushed on, slightly unconvincingly, for an equaliser. Pablo Zabaleta and Nasri linked up before the Argentinian lifted in a cross that Ricardo van Rhijn cleared under pressure, and a foul, from Gareth Barry. Then Javi Garcia drove in a ball that Zabaleta met with a header easily held by Vermeer.
Ajax's 'keeper then held a Toure header. Toure seemed City's main outlet, their forward focus with Aguero and Carlos Tevez moving around him.
Ajax stayed calm, stayed true to their passing game. They kept working the ball from side to side, stretching City, Babel and De Jong switching play.
City were chasing shadows for a period. Eriksen, continuing to send the pulse-rates of admiring Premier League managers racing, ghosted past Nasri.
Mancini acted at the break, sending on Balotelli and withdrawing Garcia.
Balotelli sought to insinuate his way in from the left but Van Rhijn kept tracking his runs. Only when Balotelli went more central did City fully threaten. Ajax were defending deep but still capable of a counter. Hart needed to be at his agile best to deny De Jong.
City still threatened occasionally, particularly through Aguero, but the striker kept slipping at critical moments. Mancini twisted again, sending on Edin Dzeko for Tevez, who had run hard for no reward. Ajax resisted City's surge, pushing forward, looking for a third.
Van Rhijn, effortlessly found by Eriksen, crossed and Zabaleta, slightly panicking, bundled it out for a corner. Then Hart needed to fling himself to his left to keep out De Jong's free-kick.
With 16 minutes remaining, City went direct, Balotelli flicking on and there was Aguero equalising with a firm shot. City fans woke up, really getting behind the team. 'We're Manchester City, we'll fight to the end,' the home hordes chanted.
Aguero looked City's best source of hope, attacking the end where he so famously gave them the title in that dramatic win over QPR last season.
They kept pushing forward, inevitably leaving space at the back. Van Rhijn delivered another cross which Kompany headed out.
Mancini made his last change. Barry was withdrawn, departing to warm applause, for Aleksandar Kolarov. He immediately gave them width on the left, playing in some inviting balls. Dzeko went close.
Then Kolarov was adjudged offside when whipping in a ball that Aguero turned in at the near-post. Mancini was incensed. (© Daily Telegraph, London)