Sunday 17 December 2017

Mario madness proves costly as City crash out

Man City 1
Dynamo Kiev 0
(Dynamo Kiev win 2-1 on aggregate)
Europa league last 16, 2nd leg

Henry Winter

Mario Balotelli's life would make a good film script, with fireworks fired from balconies, car crashes, an excursion into a women's prison and a love of animals that sees him make regular visits to Knowsley safari park.

The 20-year-old has the time to cram in so much off the pitch as he keeps getting sent off and suspended.

The Italian was at it again last night, wrecking Manchester City's dream of a trip to Dublin by being dismissed on St Patrick's Day. City can rail against a poor referee. They can lament the sloppy defending that cost them in Kiev. Really, though, they should reflect on the folly of Balotelli.

The moody Blue may be a popular figure around Carrington and Eastlands, with players and staff making allowances for his awkward upbringing. But the moment he raised his studs into Goran Popov's chest, then down into the left-back's thigh, Balotelli let his team-mates down, leaving them to play 54 minutes with 10 men.

As superbly as Carlos Tevez and Micah Richards in particular performed, it was always going to be a tall order for City. Balotelli also betrayed his manager, Roberto Mancini, a father figure from their days at Inter Milan. Unforgivable.

Not-so-super Mario will be forgiven, of course, partly because he scores goals and partly because City directed much of their venom at Cuneyt Cakir, a Turkish referee who made strange decisions. Yet Cakir was completely correct to show Balotelli the red card, the key moment in this tie. City scored shortly afterwards but they inevitably tired.

Trailing by two goals from the first leg, City had hoped for a fightback like the one against Tottenham Hotspur in 2004. Pictures were shown on the large screen of that famous comeback from 3-0 down.

The game was gripping, City launching everything at Kiev from the first whistle, too much so in Balotelli's case. For 36 minutes, he was fairly involved, interchanging well with his fellow forwards, although missing a good chance.

City were their usual 4-2-3-1 formation with Tevez full of bustling running and David Silva gliding through. Richards kept driving down the right, a reminder to the watching Fabio Capello of his energy and the strangeness of the decision to leave him in the England U-21s.

Tevez was inventive, knocking the ball through Atanda Yussuf's legs.

The Argentine kept the industry levels high, making up for Gareth Barry's tardiness in possession. City were getting closer, a Silva half-volley catching Balotelli and going wide.

City's desire to get on with the game, to find a way back into this tie, was seen when Yaya Toure railed at the pedantic Cakir, who had failed to allow a quick free-kick.

Then came another moment of Mario madness. Since the recent Fifa gathering, Balotelli cannot even plead the excuse of a snood restricting oxygen to the brain. When the ball was in the vicinity of Popov, Balotelli went straight in.

It lacked the spectacular nature of Nigel de Jong's kung-fu kick on Xabi Alonso in the World Cup final, but it was reckless. He had to walk, being led away by Brian Kidd.

Tempers, occasionally studs, remained high. Yussuf caught Tevez, who then responded angrily when wrongly denied a throw-in. His fury brought him a caution for dissent.

City refused to let their European dream go lightly. Awarded a free-kick 25 yards out, Silva laid the ball off to Aleksandar Kolarov, whose low drive fizzed past Tevez and Oleksandr Shovkovskyi. Kiev's keeper responded late.

A man down but a goal up, City were still in this fighting.


Tension bit deep into the second half, shredding nerves and straining larynxes. For all the effort of Tevez and Richards, a tiring City soon needed new ideas, new legs. Mancini twisted, sending on Adam Johnson for Barry. Out since January 22, Johnson almost ripped his top in getting stripped for action.

As the fans chanted encouragement, as the ballboys resembled fly-halves in spinning the balls into outstretched hands, City kept pushing.

Kiev began running down the clock. Popov and Andrei Yarmolenko took so long for treatment that they might have been quicker to nip down to the Manchester Royal Infirmary.

Mancini acted again, sending on Edin Dzeko for Silva, City inevitably going longer now. Joe Hart kept drilling the ball downfield but was also required to make an important save, pushing over Roman Eremenko's shot.

City raised themselves for one final push. Tevez kept tracking back and darting forward. Johnson was a font of good ideas on the right.

Deep into the five minutes added on, Toure drilled a fabulous pass to Dzeko, who caught the ball on his chest, swivelled and drew a good save from Shovkovskyi.

When Kiev's keeper then held a Toure free-kick, the life went out of City. As Cakir blew for full-time, accompanied by chants of "referee, you're having a laugh", City trudged off, joining Balotelli in the dressing-room. He needs to grow up. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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