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Heroic Joe Hart gives Man City fighting chance against Real Madrid

Manchester City 0-0 Real Madrid

By Mark Ogden

Published 27/04/2016

Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart (left) saves an effort on goal from from close by Real Madrid's pepe (right) during the UEFA Champions League, Semi-Final match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PA
Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart (left) saves an effort on goal from from close by Real Madrid's pepe (right) during the UEFA Champions League, Semi-Final match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PA
Manchester City's Nigerian striker Kelechi Iheanacho (L) tangles with Real Madrid's Brazilian midfielder Casemiro (R) during the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg football match between Manchester City and Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, northwest England, on April 26, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
Manchester City's Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne plays during the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg football match between Manchester City and Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, northwest England, on April 26, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
Real Marid's Rodriguez Jese and Manchester City's Nicolas Otamendi battle for the ball during the UEFA Champions League, Semi-Final match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PA
Vincent Kompany of Manchester City collides with Casemiro of Real Madrid CF during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Manchester City FC and Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium on April 26, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo watches from the crowd as a spectator during the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg football match between Manchester City and Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, northwest England, on April 26, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Streamers and flags are waved before the UEFA Champions League, Semi-Final match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday April 26, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez (left) and Manchester City President Khaldoon Al Mubarak (right) in the stands during the UEFA Champions League, Semi-Final match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday April 26, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Real Madrid's Welsh forward Gareth Bale (R) and Manchester City's Brazilian midfielder Fernando (L) go up for a high ball during the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg football match between Manchester City and Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, northwest England, on April 26, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Flags are waved in the stands as the players take to the pitch during the UEFA Champions League, Semi-Final match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday April 26, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: The Real Madrid team pose for the cameras prior to kickoff during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Manchester City FC and Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium on April 26, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: The non playing Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF shares a joke with a teammate during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Manchester City FC and Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium on April 26, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: The opposing teams walk out onto the pitch prior to kickoff during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Manchester City FC and Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium on April 26, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
A Manchester City fan holds up a sign which reads 'Living the Dream' during the UEFA Champions League, Semi-Final match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday April 26, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.
The UEFA Champions League trophy on display prior to the UEFA Champions League, Semi-Final match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday April 26, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.
A Real Madrid fan cheers before kick off of the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg football match between Manchester City and Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, northwest England, on April 26, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: Gareth Bale of Real Madrid CF looks on during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Manchester City FC and Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium on April 26, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
5: Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane earns £9.5million per annun
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez (left) and Manchester City President Khaldoon Al Mubarak (right) in the stands during the UEFA Champions League, Semi-Final match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday April 26, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: A fan arrives at the stadium prior to kickoff during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Manchester City FC and Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium on April 26, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
A general view of screens prior to the UEFA Champions League, Semi-Final match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday April 26, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: Fans make their way to the stadium prior to kickoff during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Manchester City FC and Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium on April 26, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero arriving for the UEFA Champions League, Semi-Final match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday April 26, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
A general view of seating prior to the UEFA Champions League, Semi-Final match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday April 26, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
A general view of seating prior to the UEFA Champions League, Semi-Final match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday April 26, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Gareth Bale looks on during a Real Madrid press conference on the eve of their UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on April 25, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
Real Madrid's Welsh forward Gareth Bale is pictured during a training session at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, northwest England, on April 25, 2016, ahead of their UEFA Champions League semi-final, first leg football match against Manchester City on April 26 in Manchester. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (3rd L) takes part in a training session at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, northwest England, on April 25, 2016, ahead of their UEFA Champions League semi-final, first leg football match against Manchester City on April 26 in Manchester. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Real Madrid's (left to right) Luka Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema during a training session at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday April 25, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Real Madrid. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (3rd L) takes part in a training session at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, northwest England, on April 25, 2016, ahead of their UEFA Champions League semi-final, first leg football match against Manchester City on April 26 in Manchester. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo during a training session at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday April 25, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Real Madrid. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Real Madrid's (left to right) Cristiano Ronaldo, Mateo Kovacic and Gareth Bale during a training session at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday April 25, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Real Madrid. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos during a training session at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday April 25, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Real Madrid. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Real Madrid's Gareth Bale during a press conference at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday April 25, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Real Madrid. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Real Madrid's Gareth Bale during a training session at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday April 25, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Real Madrid. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Zinedine Zidane manager of Real Madrid looks on during a Real Madrid press conference on the eve of their UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on April 25, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Zinedine Zidane manager of Real Madrid looks on during a Real Madrid press conference on the eve of their UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on April 25, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
Manchester City's Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini speaks during a press conference in Manchester, northwest England on April 25, 2016 ahead of their UEFA Champions League semi-final, first leg football match against Real Madrid on April 26. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero during a training session at the Etihad Campus, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday April 25, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Manchester City's Vincent Kompany speaks during a press conference at the Etihad Campus, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday April 25, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Manchester City's Vincent Kompany (left) with Raheem Sterling, Bacary Sagna, Eliaquim Mangala and Kevin De Bruyne (right), during a training session at the Etihad Campus, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday April 25, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini watches his players, during a training session at the Etihad Campus, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday April 25, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Zinedine Zidane of Real Madrid CF (left) and Manuel Pellegrini, manager of Manchester City (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

If Manchester City make it to Milan for next month's Champions League final, it will be the heroics of Joe Hart that could prove the difference between success and failure for Manuel Pellegrini's team.

The England goalkeeper, whose defiance in Paris last month helped keep Paris Saint-Germain at bay, produced three crucial second-half saves against Real Madrid to enable City to travel to the Bernabeu for next week's semi-final second-leg with the advantage of not having conceded an away goal.

In a tense and hard-fought first-leg at the Etihad, which took place without injured Real winger Cristiano Ronaldo, City held firm to keep themselves alive. They still face a challenge to overcome Real in their own backyard, but a scoring draw will be enough for City and they owe Hart for that distinction.

Facing the club's first-ever Champions League semi-final - this was Real's 27th - City were given a huge lift with Ronaldo being forced out with the thigh problem that saw him miss the weekend victory over Rayo Vallecano.

Having trained with his team-mates at the Etihad on Monday, the former Manchester United winger had appeared, as coach Zinedine Zidane had claimed, to be 100 per cent fit and ready.

But with Zidane wary of Ronaldo aggravating the problem, the former Real midfielder chose to err on the side of caution.

For a club blessed with the attacking talents of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez and Isco, Ronaldo's loss would not have been the hammer blow it may have been to other teams, but the 31-year-old nonetheless provides the X-factor which can lift Real to incredible heights.

So City would clearly have been energised by Ronaldo's absence and, although they were without the midfielder power of Yaya Toure, Pellegrini's team sensed that this was their opportunity to secure a crucial advantage.

The home side started well, with Kevin de Bruyne, Jesus Navas and Sergio Aguero displaying early threat, but after a cagey opening period, it was Real who first broke into enemy territory when Bale (right) pounced on a lapse of concentration by Gael Clichy.

He then attempted to square the ball for Benzema on the penalty spot, but City were rescued by Vincent Kompany. City responded, with De Bruyne running at the Real back line and the Belgian was cleaned out by Pepe for his troubles, with the Real defender booked.

Four minutes later, Pepe's defensive partner, Sergio Ramos, was fortunate to avoid joining his team-mate in the notebook after giving away a free-kick for a crude challenge on Fernandinho, who impressed with his organisational skills and leadership at the back.

The challenge was a sign of the high stakes, and David Silva joined with an uncharacteristic hack at Bale. Silva was booked, but more significantly, the Spaniard tweaked a hamstring which forced him out of the game and potentially also the second-leg.

Rather than the anticipated free-flowing encounter, it proved an attritional battle and neither goalkeeper had a shot to save in the first-half.

Zidane replaced the ineffective Benzema with Jese in an attempt to sharpen Real's attacking threat, but the game continued to be played in the middle third.

Aguero should have done better on 46 minutes when he escaped Ramos and Pepe to race onto Fernandinho's pass, but the City forward shot over the crossbar. Two minutes later, Bale broke into the City penalty area again and went down under the challenge of Nicolas Otamendi, but play was waved on.

They were rare forays into opposition territory, however, and it was not until the 54th minute that Ramos forced the first save of the game from Hart with a close range header.

The Real captain jumped highest to connect with Toni Kroos' corner, but Hart was perfectly positioned.

City began to sink deeper into their own territory as the clock ticked down, but Hart was there when it mattered as his team-mates tired.

Jese sent a header against the crossbar and Luka Modric shot over from 25 yards before the City goalkeeper earned his wages with a goalline block to keep out Casemiro's header.

Hart then produced a point-blank save to deny Pepe, who volleyed goalwards from six yards.

Only time will tell how important that save was, but it could yet prove decisive.

MAN CITY: Hart, Sagna, Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy, Fernandinho, Fernando, Jesus Navas (Sterling 77), De Bruyne, Silva (Iheanacho 40), Aguero.

Booked: Silva

Unused subs: Caballero, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Delph, Mangala.

Real Madrid: Keylor Navas, Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo, Modric, Casemiro, Kroos (Isco 90), Lucas, Benzema (Jese 46), Bale.

Booked: Carvajal, Pepe

Unused subs: Casilla, Varane, Rodriguez, Kovacic, Danilo.

Man of the match: Joe Hart

Match rating: 6/10

Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey)

 

Belfast Telegraph

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