STIZmcfcLeather - Manchester City rescued at the death by Mario Balotelli's
On a night when Manchester City never looked comfortable, Mario Balotelli showed some composure when it mattered most to convert a 90th-minute penalty that provided Roberto Mancini and his players with a lifeline.
It was a reprieve that City barely deserved at the end of an evening when Borussia Dortmund were entitled to depart nursing a sense of injustice after they outplayed their opponents for long periods and would have been out of sight but for an inspired display from Joe Hart.
Time and again the England goalkeeper came to City's rescue to keep them in a game that was slipping from their grasp when Marco Reus capitalised on a mistake from the substitute Jack Rodwell to give Dortmund a deserved lead. Hart made several fine saves to deny the German champions a second goal and the value of his contribution became clear when Pavel Kralovec, the Czech referee, harshly adjudged that Neven Subotic had handled Sergio Agüero's shot in the closing stages. Balotelli, a late substitute, did the rest, calmly rolling his penalty into the bottom corner to leave Dortmund crestfallen.
City managed 10 points in the Champions League last season and still went out and it is no exaggeration to say they could not afford another unproductive night. Their next opponents, Ajax, are the Dutch champions. Beyond that, City have the small matter of a return game against Real Madrid, plus a trip to Dortmund's Westfalenstadion in their final assignment of an unforgiving group. If Mancini's men are to qualify for the knockout phase they are going to have to discover the kind of authority that has not always been there since they set about trying to make their presence felt in this competition. They can certainly be encouraged by the first signs that David Silva is gradually coming out of a loss of form and reasserting himself in the manner that made him, for at least the first two-thirds of last season, a legitimate contender to be regarded as the outstanding footballer in the Premier League.
The Spaniard was invariably involved with City's more promising moments here, with his appreciation of space and ability to play the killer pass. Three times inside the opening half an hour his delicate little passes dissected the Dortmund defence. The goalkeeper, Roman Weidenfeller, thwarted Agüero twice, and Pablo Zabaleta, the wrong player in the right position, put the other chance over the crossbar.
Yet there was plenty of evidence, too, about why Dortmund won last season's Bundesliga. Certainly, they had not travelled to Manchester to play the role of sightseers, as became clear after 11 minutes when Robert Lewandowski latched on to Vincent Kompany's mistake and played in Mario Götze for a shot that Hart impressively turned against the outside of the post.
By half-time Götze could also reflect on losing out to Hart in a one-on-one running in from the left, followed shortly afterwards by the England goalkeeper turning another of his shots on to the crossbar.
City also lost Javi García to injury in the first half and there were some fraught moments as their opponents finished the opening half strongly. The home side were indebted to Hart with another excellent save from Ilkay Gundogan on the stroke of half-time. A few moments earlier, Silva had volleyed over from inside the six-yard area but City were looking a little disjointed at that point and the first nerves were descending on the home crowd.
There were more anxious expressions on City faces early in the second half, when Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek combined on the right to carve out a chance for Götze. Hart, however, produced another fine save, flinging himself to his right to turn Götze's sweeping shot behind.
It seemed inevitable that a breakthrough would come sooner or later and so it proved when Rodwell carelessly gave away possession inside his own half with a blind pass to Matija Nastasic. Reus read the midfielder's intentions, nicked the ball and accelerated away from Nastasic and Rodwell before beating Hart.
There was no respite for City as Dortmund chased a second goal. Hart came off his line to deny Reus and seconds later the City keeper was making another brilliant one-handed save to turn Gundogan's curling effort over the bar.
There was another reprieve for City in the 76th minute when Gundogan delivered a wonderful cross that implored Lewandowski to score only for the Pole to inexplicably steer the ball wide. Balotelli was not so generous.