Real Madrid saw their night take an unexpectedly sour turn at the Etihad Stadium in the 72nd minute this evening, when the Italian official Gianluca Rocchi gave a penalty for Arbeloa's innocuous challenge on Agüero, the defender saw his second yellow card and Kun outwitted Casillas from the spot. Coming completely against the run of play, it left Madrid 18 undeserved minutes of worry and struggle. With one man less than a City team who had to give it their all, Madrid had their work cut out to keep things as they were from then on, and salvage a point which takes them through to the last sixteen as group D runners-up (Dortmund are out of reach and Ajax eliminated). Mourinho's line-up was hard to pick holes in. The Portuguese has experience of Rocchi and perhaps won't be overly surprised by the turn of events in England.
The last quarter of an hour won't erase from the memory impressions which weren't felt on the scoreboard, but will live on in the memory of the game. Madrid were on the way to putting old ghosts to rest, especially German ones. The penalty shoot-out against Bayern Münich and the two matches against Dortmund have created a certain amount of pessimism about their candidacy for the big Wembley final; doubts which were shown to be unfounded. In Manchester, they unveiled their champions' football on a big stage for a good while. And they deserved to be tagged as fearsome by Europe's greats.
Mourinho was the winner in the battle of the coaches with Mancini until he was forced to pull his troops back somewhat in the second half. He understood the match better than his colleague; just as at the Bernabéu. He responded to Mancini's three centre-backs with the mobility of Benzema and by playing Cristiano slightly further back, letting him spearhead almost all the counter-attacks. Madrid went into the break 0-1 up, but as well as Benzema's goal, the reigning disorder in City's five-man defence (it's impossible to understand what Mancini was smiling at as he watched the Frenchman's effort go over the line after Di María's cross travelled the length of the area for two seconds), saw a hatful of chances for the team in green. Khedira, tactically brilliant and reading the game well, got on the end of some of them with ease. But on one occasion his header missed the target, and on another he struck the grass instead of the ball. The German was one of the best in a game packed full of stars.
Cristiano was also centimetres from scoring, but what buoyed Madrid the most was his tormenting presence out wide. Ramos had a great game against Dzeko. Xabi and Khedira had good link-up play in the middle. And City, forced to change their system in the 26th minute, were a disaster. With a huge distance between their lines, Silva hardly appeared except for in a couple of skirmishes (in the second half he did shine). The biggest battler was Agüero. Madrid went into the break with bittersweet feelings. Like in the home game, they should have already finished things off.
Nevertheless, they took a step back at half-time. City found their pride with the restart, and were a slightly too gung ho with some of the challenges (especially Zabaleta, who should have been sent off). In another roll of the dice, Mancini brought off Kolarov, replacing him with Javi García. City's shape was firmer, and now Madrid were slightly intimidated. But they still didn't bow and kept fighting for a second goal. They weren't the ones obliged to make an impact on the scoreboard, but they looked for one. They came close with another great move from Cristiano which Khedira didn't finish, and if they didn't do more damage it was because Rocchi stopped them, ignoring a string of obstructions by Kompany on Cristiano and a penalty for Javi García's foul on the Portuguese. That was how it was until the penalty, the sending-off and the equalizing goal, which left 18 minutes of improvisation with Varane, and a wait for a prize that was less than deserved.