12th April, 2016
Manchester City are into the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time after Kevin de Bruyne’s late strike sealed a thrilling win over Paris St-Germain.
After a 2-2 first-leg draw in Paris last week, the tie remained in the balance in Manchester thanks to Sergio Aguero’s missed penalty for City in the first half.
The home side had Joe Hart to thank for three fine saves at 0-0, notably a ferocious Zlatan Ibrahimovic free-kick that the England goalkeeper clawed to safety.
But, roared on by a capacity crowd of 53,039 that supplied an unforgettable atmosphere, City held their nerve at the back before De Bruyne’s decisive strike 15 minutes from time with their only shot on target.
The final whistle brought scenes of pure emotion from the fans at Etihad Stadium, who were already in uncharted territory.
England’s last remaining representatives in Europe’s elite club competition had never reached the quarter-finals before this season – now they can dream of the final in Milan.
First they can look forward to Friday’s semi-final draw, after winning what was viewed as the battle of Europe’s richest clubs with a PSG side who have now fallen at the last-eight stage for four successive seasons.
-How City got the shut out they needed-
City’s defence has been much maligned this season and their performance in Paris in particular meant a clean sheet looked a long shot in this second leg.
The main reason they achieved one was Hart but, on this occasion, their back four also deserve immense credit.
Their full-backs coped with PSG’s wide players, whether it was wing-backs Maxwell and Gregory van der Wiel in a 5-3-2 formation in the first half, or orthodox wingers Lucas and Angel di Maria in a 4-4-2 after the break.
At centre-half, Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala had kept just three clean sheets in 17 previous games together this season, and one of those was the 17 minutes they played together against Dynamo Kiev in the last 16.
But between them they barely gave Ibrahimovic a sniff of goal in open play and nullified PSG’s main threat until he finally found the net just before the final whistle.
Sadly for the enigmatic Sweden striker, the offside flag had long since been raised.
Ibrahimovic was not the only striker to draw a blank.
His battle with Aguero was much-hyped before the match, notably by City’s own poster campaign to drum up ticket sales, but again this dual of the super-strikers disappointed.
Like Ibrahimovic in the first leg, Aguero missed a penalty – and by some margin. After being tripped by Kevin Trapp, the Argentina international fired well wide of the target to the disbelief of the home fans.
While Aguero’s influence was then confined to his industry, Ibrahimovic fired in two free-kicks as he attempted to add to his tally of 39 goals from 42 games this season – but Hart saved both of them.
Instead it was De Bruyne who would supply the precise finish, with the £55m Belgium forward again showing his worth to City with another fine display since his return from injury.