Early Doors

City can take positives from Bernabeu barnburner

If there was any doubt as to whether or not the stand-out fixture of the first round of this season's Champions League action would live up to its billing, they were proven right. And then very, very wrong.

Manchester City's visit to the Santiago Bernabeu to face Real Madrid was the marquee fixture of what UEFA insist we call Matchday One, but for a long time it felt more like a training session than a clash between the champions of Spain and England.

After an opening hour in which City withstood so much pressure it was as though the cauldron-like stadium was being used to slowly form a vacuum, the visitors opened the scoring to kick off a quite barmy final quarter of the game to see the match end 3-2 to Real. The final one of those strikes was a cruel injury-time winner from Cristiano Ronaldo. The most expensive player in the world fired home to vanquish the richest club on the planet.

The manner of the defeat was a crushing blow for City, whose fans must have run the full gamut of emotions on their trip to the Spanish capital. Between allegedly being randomly set upon by police before the game to the brutal way in which their team suffered defeat, via taking the lead twice via goals from substitutes Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov, they can be forgiven for barely having anything left in the tank when Arsenal come to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

Joe Hart, who made a dozen saves and yet still shipped three goals, was typically forthright in his assessment of his team's performance. The England No.1 said: "It's not on. You can't go 2-1 up and lose the game. We can only blame ourselves. They are a very good team and so are we. We dug deep, got a lead twice and threw it away. It's hard to come off the field after losing 3-2 and be positive."

City boss Roberto Mancini was not happy with his keeper laying into his team ("If anyone should criticise the team it should be me, not Joe Hart"), but he did agree that his players let him down.

Mancini, who has now lost two and drawn one of his three managerial meetings with Real coach Jose Mourinho, said: "We should have paid more attention. We should learn more courage sometimes. We have international players, we can improve and we should be disappointed that we have lost this point."

But never mind the result. Never mind the disappointment. City finally announced their arrival as a real proposition in the Champions League a year after their debut in the competition.

Like a nervy singleton arriving at an acquaintance's house clutching a bottle of wine expecting a dinner party, only to walk into a scene akin to a Nicki Minaj video, City's face never really fit last season.

Aside from doing the double over Group A whipping boys Villarreal, City's only win in Group A a year ago came at home to a second-string Bayern Munich side which had already topped the group.

This season, drawn in another brutal group that also includes the champions of Germany and Netherlands, it looks as though they are much better prepared to make a go of it in the competition.

Even now as Premier League champions, simply playing a Champions League tie at the Bernabeu remains a mark of the progress the club has made over the last five years.

City finished 14th in the league in 2007. Their top scorer that season was one Joseph Barton, who managed six of the club's meagre haul of 29 league goals.

Now, just five years and more than £1 billion later, they are genuinely gutted at returning home from the Bernabeu empty-handed.

They should also bear in mind just how happy Real were to claim the late victory. After taking just four points from the first 12 available to them in La Liga and with Cristiano Ronaldo expressing his 'sadness' recently, getting off to a winning start in Europe relieved a great deal of pressure from Mourinho's shoulders.

Just in case Mourinho's trademark knee-slide celebration at Ronaldo's winner was not evidence enough of the sheer relief felt around the club, the Portuguese said after the match: "If I am the coach of a small team I can lose more times but as the coach of Real Madrid I cannot accept that. I'm so happy with the players' attitudes, because it's a big victory against a big team."

Defeat for City will be hard to swallow, but the way in which they went down bodes well for their future in the competition.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "If any of the team were needing a wake-up call, then I hope that's it, that's for sure. It's certainly not a wake-up call for me - it's just a massive disappointment. It's a sore one, that's for sure. It's really, really disappointing to get beat and knocked out in the manner we did." — Rangers manager Ally McCoist doesn't mince his words after losing their Scottish Cup quarter-final to Queen of the South on penalties at Ibrox. Seeing as Queen of the South are top of the Second Division, does that mean they narrowly avoided an upset?

FOREIGN VIEW: Barcelona's players have requested that all members of the cabin crew on their flights should be female from now on. According to a press release from club sponsor Turkish Airlines — sorry, a report by Turkish outlet Hurriyet Daily News - they are fed up with getting hassled by male flight attendants who are constantly haranguing them for autographs and pictures.

COMING UP: There is even more Champions League action this evening with eight more games including Chelsea v Juventus, Manchester United v Galatasaray and Celtic v Benfica. Follow live coverage of all eight games from 19:00.

Away from football there is also live coverage of the men's individual time trial at the world cycling  championships (11:00) and two matches from the World Twenty20 cricket — Australia v Ireland and Afghanistan v India.