Writer: Tranmere Loyal
Date:Friday February 17 2012
As we stood in line to board the [plane on Wednesday, the branded Etihad plane resplendent in its City livery arrived from a far-flung location, treating many of us to a first sighting.
And as the airbridge disgorged all of Mancini's big guns, there was an air of confidence on board as the selection guessing games began. The Toure brothers had already arrived in Porto and with the additional personnel on the plane it was clear that in the absence of a first team match this weekend, the Blues could go and make some history and claim a place in the last 16 of this much maligned competition.
Thursday in Porto dawned with the city bathed in beautiful sunshine and with the temperature rapidly rising from around 5 to 22 degrees before the supporters planes emptied 1500 expectant City fans onto the 'Ribeira', where they took up camp until kick-off. Out came the flags to bedeck the balconies and up went the volume especially as the Super Bock flowed faster than the old river outside the doors
f the excellent bars in that wonderful part of Porto.
The Estadio del Dragao really is a marvellous stadium, similar in size to the Etihad and with the local ultra groups at each end, certainly did not lack atmosphere.It was not far short of full, but Portugal like every other European destination right now is, too, in the hands of the recession.
And so to football. Mancini sent on a mixed-message type team designed with Silva and the returning and much missed Yaya Toure the creative elements in midfield. At the same time the protection policies known as Barry and de Jong we there to break up whatever Porto had to offer.
Super Mario led the line giving Dzeko chance to reinvent himself whilst at the same time affording Aguero a well earned rest.
Richards and Clichy we restored to the back line, giving the team a firm, robust look, but balanced with flair and endeavour...plus Yaya.
Milner found himself benched in favour of de Jong which he probably didn't appreciate given the graft he has put in whilst Yaya was missing.
As Mancini said in his pre-match, Porto are no mugs. Quality contestants in Europe and at home for many years with a team boasting Maicon, Lucho, Varela, Moutinho and Hulk will certainly make you work hard and tonight that was no exception.
When the teams came out the stadium came alive. Unbeaten at home for 32 matches and only Stretford's finest their previous conquerors at home in Europe in 2008, there was an air of confidence about home side and the Bancada Sul was in full voice.
City were first to hit their stride looking menacing each time they got the ball, but Porto's midfielders would not let them get away especially Fernando, who was not afraid to dismember City's efforts rather than defend them.
Indeed for much of the first half the Turkish referee, who sent off Balotelli last year against Kyiv, was considerably more generous to the hosts. For their part, City managed to collect admonishments like confetti as each time a robust tackle went in out came the cards. Did any one in a red and black shirt not get booked last night?
There was space on the field if you could avoid the combined harvesters in blue and white stripes. However they too can play a bit and counter-attacked Napoli fashion as the game went from end to end. The air temperature was dropping but on the field is was moving in the other direction.
Porto were starting to press but City's protective elements looked to be in control at the back. But in midfield the Blues couldn't quite get a grip and much of the first half of the first half was played in City's half.
Clichy headed over a dangerous cross from Rolando and this seemed to spring City back into life. But whenever City did venture forward at pace some dubious offside flags almost became an additional defender for Porto. This indeed went on for most of the match, especially when Richards was flagged offside when he was from at least ten yards on side.
Yaya was getting into his stride and the Porto midfielders needed to take action. They were certainly not afraid to do that, with Danilo in his attempt to chop down Yaya found himself being carried off on a stretcher whilst being yellow carded.
Balotelli and then Richards tested Helton, but he was up to it twice as City started to progress. In the next move Nasri again tested Helton, but his decision to go near post helped the keeper clear what was the best chance so far.
Then Hulk showed a different side to his game finding himself falling to the floor too easily rather than busting his shirt and turning green.
But just as City were getting things together Hulk sprang the right side of the City defence. His cross found Varela one step ahead of Clichy and with Hart expecting far post, Varela clipped it in at the near.
In the next attack Balotelli should have equalised. A great through ball from Nasri found Balotelli for once not flagged offside and once again Helton make a superb save.
Porto were happy to see themselves through to half time with their lead intact.
The second half got under way with City looking lively. Balotelli at times isolated ran unselfishfly to try to move the defenders around and with some success. He was broody, menacing and flamboyant in equal measures.
City were playing more of the game with the ball in front of them, so Porto stepped up the fight with Alvaro clipping Balotelli across the face in a clear attempt to disturb him.
But in the next attack and with 'City time' about to expire a delightful long range ball from Yaya into Mario's stride panicked Alvaro into putting through his own net to give City a vital away goal.
Now City's class started to tell. Porto forced back on to the front foot started to leaves holes for City to develop. The Bancadas started to whistle. The home boys looked for fouls that weren't there, their midfielders still gave away free kicks, they still for the main part went unpunished.
The linesman opposite the camera point went through a nightmare period when he gave Richards offisde when he clearly wasn't and then waved play on as with the ball around 2 circumferences out of play ran around the linesman who turned his back and clearly became confused.
Tackles went flying in including from Kompany who produced a similar effort to that which got him dismissed in the FA Cup. This time it was yellow. Hart made a good save from Hulk's resultant free kick.
Barry was next in the book making it a quick 1-2-3 for City with de Jong also getting in on the act.
I did not now fear for City in any way. The air of confidence that had abounded sine I left Ringway was still in tact and everything on the field suggested it just might be City's day. Chances came and went at both ends but Yaya was slowly but surely making his mark. He looked exhausted but he still had that ability to burst forward at will and with a less than 10 minutes to go he did just that.
It was time to introduce Aguero to give the tiring Porto defenders a different challenge and in less than 10 minutes what an impact he had made. Porto's game had become ragged and devoid of ideas as Nasri from a central position sprang Yaya in the inside left slot. He charged goalward and look for all the world as if he would drill the ball through Helton, but as the defenders collected towards the ball, Yaya unselfishly set it up for the unmarked Aguero to slot into the empty net.
Make no mistake this was a truly excellent victory from behind by a quality City side getting its swagger back now that Yaya has come home.
Porto haven't lost a league game here since 2008 and still won't give this tie up, but it is now City's for the losing and at the Etihad I can't see it.
Tactical masterstroke by Mancini again and a super performance by his team. Lescott in particular had a great game in dealing with the threat caused by Hulk, but for me the reintroduction of Yaya made the day.
And the fans on the Bancada Norte gleefully sang...
This is how it feels to be City
his is how it feels to be small
ou signed Rob Jones and we signed Kun Aguero
End of story really isn't it?
Date:Friday February 17 2012
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