As Manchester City have slipped down the Premier League, they have progressed further than ever in the Champions League.
Though only fourth-best in England this season, City are now among the top four in Europe’s most elite competition.
City qualified for the Champions League semifinals for the first time on Tuesday, with Kevin de Bruyne securing a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Paris Saint-Germain to build on a 2-2 draw from the first leg.
PSG’s fourth successive exit in the quarter-finals leaves the Qatari-owned club still chasing a much sought-after European Cup. Instead, City is celebrating another landmark in the club’s transformation in the eight years since itself coming under Middle Eastern ownership — from Abu Dhabi.
“It’s an amazing night for us,” said goalkeeper Joe Hart, the only player in Tuesday’s squad who joined City before the 2008 takeover by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour. “We’ve worked hard in this competition. I’ve been here since the start of this Champions League run and we did struggle to start with, but we started to piece together results and this speaks volumes.”
The 3-2 aggregate wins ensures Manuel Pellegrini, who reached the semi-finals as Villarreal coach 10 years ago, can still turn City into European champions before handing over power to Pep Guardiola in May after three years in charge.
This was a night when rival strikers both misfired. Sergio Aguero missed a penalty for City in the first half and PSG striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic had two free-kicks saved and a goal disallowed for offside.
As well as twice denying Ibrahimovic, Hart also tipped over Thiago Silva’s close-range downward header over and spread himself to prevent Edinson Cavani from scoring a late equalizer after De Bruyne’s goal.
“Both this evening and last week in Paris, we weren’t clinical enough, we weren’t efficient,” PSG coach Laurent Blanc said through a translator. “City are a good team, not a particularly spectacular team, but they are efficient and they get the job done ... imposing their physicality without creating many opportunities.”
De Bruyne did not waste his opportunity in the 76th minute. After one touch to take the ball past Cavani, De Bruyne curled a shot through a crowded penalty area that took a slight deflection before landing into the bottom corner of the net.
The energetic midfielder was discarded by Chelsea in 2014, but City signed him from Wolfsburg last year for 75 million euros (US$85 million). The Belgian is proving that was a shrewd move, scoring three goals in four games since returning from a two-month lay-off — including one in the first leg last week — as City have enjoyed an upturn in fortunes.
Despite failing to reclaim top spot in the Premier League, 2012 and 2014 champions City have recently strengthened their place in the top four Champions League qualification places. Winning this year would guarantee a place in the competition next season.
Two away goals gave City the slight edge as it hosted PSG in front of a 53,039 crowd in their first Champions League quarter-final at the Etihad Stadium. As has become customary this season, City fans drowned out UEFA’s Champions League anthem with jeers before kickoff, a protest against Financial Fair Play sanctions.
With City enjoying their best Champions League run, the fans could be booing all the way to the final in Milan, Italy, next month.
City coped without captain Vincent Kompany at the heart of the defense, with centerbacks Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala holding off Ibrahimovic and Cavani.
“I was very happy for both of them,” Pellegrini said of his defensive duo. “I don’t think they had bad seasons. Maybe they had some individual mistakes in some games... They have faced a lot of criticism.”
PSG can still end the season with a treble, by adding the French Cup and League Cup to the league title easily already secured last month for a fourth successive year. PSG lead the French league by 28 points — a sign of the lack of competition Blanc’s side faces at home.
“Whether it’s a problem we play in Ligue 1, I don’t know,” Blanc said as he reflected on another season when PSG failed to make an impact in Europe.
WEEKEND MATCHES: While Tatung FC made good on their chances early on, Taiwan Steel rallied to win the game 2-3 and move to the top with Taichung Futuro Sunday’s action saw Taichung Futuro, Taipower FC and Taiwan Steel tied for first place on 30 points in the Taiwan Football Premier League, while Hang Yuan FC picked up a point to take the No. 4 spot on 25 points after holding Taipower to a scoreless draw. In Taoyuan, Tatung FC hosted Taiwan Steel. It was an exciting matchup, as the visitors rallied from 2-0 down to take the game with three goals. Tatung made good on their chances early on. Honduran midfielder Elias Argueta opened the account 15 minutes into the game with a low shot from the right. Three minutes
Ronnie O’Sullivan delivered a scathing attack on the next generation of snooker players after he made the quarter-finals of the World Snooker Championship on Sunday, ending Chinese star Ding Junhui’s world championship dream. The mercurial 44-year-old Englishman won an enthralling high-quality second-round encounter 13-10 to set up a quarter-final clash with three-time champion Mark Williams. When asked by the BBC whether he thought he would remain at the top of the game for this long, the Briton, who turned professional in 1992, said the poor quality of younger players had secured his position and that something drastic would have to happen
Max Verstappen informed his Red Bull team that he would not be driving “like a grandma” in Formula One’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix on Sunday — and he was as good as his word. The Dutch 22-year-old seized his opportunity at Silverstone, ending dominant Mercedes’ run of four successive wins this season and moving up to second place overall, 30 points behind leader Lewis Hamilton. Verstappen’s confidence shone through early on, after slotting into third place behind the two Mercedes, when he was told by race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase to take care of his tires. “Mate, this is the only chance of being
FULL GAME: Henry Sosa pitched nine innings for the Guardians, allowing only six hits all night, while the Monkeys’ offense were also shut out of their game Outfielder Lin An-ko carried a big bat this week — before his Uni-President Lions ran into the Fubon Guardians last night — blasting four home runs, including a grand slam as his side won four games in a row and moved into second on the CPBL table. However, the Lions could not sustain their super-charged offense for the whole week, as they were shut out 4-0 by the Guardians in New Taipei City. Fubon’s rookie catcher, Jhang Jin-de, took a page from Lin’s playbook. With two men on, Jhang smacked a three-run homer in the sixth inning. Henry Sosa of the Dominican Republic