ROME (AFP) – A Samir Nasri bullet and a late goal by Pablo Zabaleta saw Manchester City into the last 16 of the Champions League after a stunning 2-0 win over Roma at a packed Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday.
City, requiring at least a draw to go through to the knockout phase, were dominated for large periods of the match but Nasri turned the game around on the hour when he fired an unstoppable shot past Morgan De Sanctis from 25 metres.
The goal left Roma requiring two goals to qualify for the knockout phase, but after the Serie A side spurned a series of late chances, City rubbed salt into their wounds in the 86th minute when Zabaleta swept Nasri’s low delivery past De Sanctis for his first Champions League goal.
City’s win left Manuel Pellegrini’s men second in Group E behind already-qualified Bayern Munich, with Roma finishing third to drop into the Europa League. Asked if his feeling was one of relief, Pellegrini said: “Not relief, because I think we always had trust, especially after beating Bayern, that we would have a lot of chances here.
“We won against a tough team and at a difficult stadium. I think we played very well from the beginning today.”
It also came in the absence of City’s injured top scorer Sergio Aguero, whose treble in a 3-2 win over Bayern a fortnight ago relaunched City’s flagging last 16 hopes, as well as defender Vincent Kompany and suspended Yaya Toure.
Pellegrini added: “Maybe in this moment if we hadn’t qualified for next round, it would have been easy for me to say we were missing a lot of players.
“But I have a lot of trust and confidence in this squad. I always repeat the same answer. I don’t think this team is just one player and I think that today demonstrated that.”
Needing just a win to go through, Rudi Garcia’s men ultimately paid the price for failing to convert a series of chances in both halves.
“We’re disappointed with the defeat, especially as we started the match off so well,” said a resigned-looking Garcia.
“We just didn’t capitalise on our chances, especially in the opening 15 minutes. We had a very good start.
“Efficiency is a trademark of great teams and they were a lot more efficient than us in that respect tonight.” Roma made their victory intentions clear from the start, with Gervinho, Jose Holebas and then Radja Nainggolan all being given space deep on the left to create half-chances that tested City’s resolve in the opening minutes.
It was a sluggish start for City, whose best chance of the half fell to James Milner on 20 minutes only for De Sanctis to get down low and block his drive to the left of goal.
But despite their enterprise, further chances by Gervinho, Maicon – with a powerful toe-poke – came to nothing while Milner was sent through by Jesus only for De Sanctis to come out quickly and close down the angle.
City looked a lot brighter after the restart with Roma pegged in for the opening 10 minutes until some slick play by Gervinho down the right had the Giallorossi fans out of their seats.