Manchester City clinched a top-four finish in the Premier League with a 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday and secured at least a place in the Champions League qualifiers next season.
A first-half own-goal by Spurs striker Peter Crouch handed City victory, an irony not lost on the jubilant home fans who only a year ago watched him score the winner to give the London side a Champions League playoff spot at their team’s expense.
The win gave Roberto Mancini’s expensively assembled outfit their first crack at the Champions League and ended Tottenham’s hopes of another season in Europe’s elite club competition.
“I’m happy because this was our first target,” Mancini said. “I think we deserve the Champions League because we were in the top between first and fourth position all season.”
City could still finish higher than fourth to go straight into the Champions League group stage. If they end the season in fourth place, which would be their highest ever Premier League finish, they will face an early-season two-legged playoff.
With two games left, Mancini’s side have 65 points, two behind third-placed Arsenal and five adrift of Chelsea, who are second. Their neighbors Manchester United (76 points) need just one point to secure a record 19th English league title.
Eastlands erupted on the final whistle to celebrate the feat, which provides a boost before Saturday’s FA Cup final against Stoke City, where the Manchester side will be aiming to win their first trophy for 35 years.
“It will not be easy to prepare for the final in four days, to recover well, because we expended a lot of energy this evening,” said Mancini, whose team’s victory also handed Stoke a place in the Europa League next season.
It was a dogged display by City against a Spurs side who had most of the ball, but were punished for wasting chances like Luka Modric’s excellent first-half opening when he shot just wide.
Since being taken over by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al--Nahyan of Abu Dhabi in 2008, the world’s richest club have spent more than ￡300 million (US$478.1 million) building a team.
Offering big wages and high transfer fees, City have lured in world class players such as David Silva and Yaya Toure and they will now have even more carrots to offer as they possess the one thing they did not have before — Champions League soccer.
Tottenham’s very slim hopes of qualifying for the European competition they lit up this season with some exciting soccer and dramatic comebacks on the way to the quarter-finals were extinguished by Crouch’s blunder after half an hour.
Following a short corner, City midfielder James Milner’s low ball into the cluttered box was turned in by Tottenham’s England striker, who held his head in his hands in disgust.
The City fans barely noticed as they did the “Poznan” celebration, where they jump up and down with their arms around each other and their backs to the pitch — a move learned when they played Polish team Lech Poznan in this season’s Europa League.
There was almost as much cheering when City captain Carlos Tevez, absent since tearing his hamstring nearly a month ago and seeming to have recovered just in time for Saturday’s FA Cup final, started warming up on the touchline.
When he finally came on in the 83rd minute, he entered the field to a standing ovation and the City attack looked livelier than it had for most of the rest of the game.