Aguero fires Manchester City's to win in Porto
Porto 1 Manchester City 2: In the grand scheme of Manchester City's ambitions, the Europa League may be small beer but this was a very big deal.
If Porto are not classed among the aristocracy of European football to which they aspire, they are certainly part of its landed gentry. Since 1987, a year that marked one of City's many relegations, they have won the European Cup, the Uefa Cup and its equivalent, the Europa League, four times.
This was a display of great maturity and no little tactical skill epitomised by the performance of Yaya Touré who, with Mario Balotelli, was the victim of alleged racist abuse from the stands.
He had flown 5,000 miles from Libreville to Oporto via Abidjan amid the crushing disappointment of the Ivory Coast's failure to win the Africa Cup of Nations, a tournament which was theirs by right and which they dominated. Only those members of the Hungarian or Dutch World Cup teams of 1954 and 1974 would understand quite how Touré felt as he embarked on the long journey home.
"Strong" was the adjective his manager, Roberto Mancini used to describe his performance. If anything this was an understatement. That he selected him at all was a vindication of how he regards Touré as the glue that binds his side together.
He finished with the muscular run and the square ball that Sergio Aguero drove home to put Manchester City in decisive control of a match marred by the great recurring theme of this season: racial abuse.
Mancini claimed not to have heard it but it will be the subject of an official complaint from the club to Uefa. Given how many black players the Europa League champions possess in their own squad, the monkey chants almost defy comprehension. Neither target appeared unduly affected by the taunts which in Balotelli's case should be a matter for a small celebration.
"Mario did very well because he was calm," his manager said. "I told him before the game that it should be about how you play and not the other things." However, through no fault of his own, "the other things" came once more rushing to the surface.
Mancini added that he thought his players were "60 per cent through" to the next stage of the competition, which is more than he bargained for. Before kick-off he anticipated that this was an encounter that would be "decided over 180 minutes", won on points rather than with a single knockout blow. However, as his side slipped into the night, Porto were not just on the ropes but starting to actively slide down them..
Frankly, the Manchester City manager would have settled for a draw, especially after going behind. Mostly was the kind of match he would have enjoyed in the same way a forward defensive push from Geoff Boycott might once have been enjoyed. It would not feature in many end-of-season videos but was reassuring and in its way mightily effective.
For 20 minutes it worked very well. Porto made several attempts to turn City's flanks without ever getting past either of Mancini's full-backs. However, the first time they did, they scored.
Hulk is not quite the footballing juggernaut the nickname that Givanildo Vieira de Souza's physique earned him and he has never quite justified the preposterous €100m [£83m] buy-out clause that the Portuguese champions have inserted into his contract. However, like a lot of centre-forwards – Alan Shearer was a prime example – Hulk is a very good crosser of a ball. The one he delivered as the game creaked towards the half-hour mark was fast and low and Silvestre Varela timed his run to meet it perfectly as it sped between Vincent Kompany and Gaël Clichy.
This was rather less than Manchester City deserved. Touré had not played in a Manchester City shirt since they swept Liverpool away in the first week of January, while this was Balotelli's first game since his four-match ban for stamping on Scott Parker, another example of "the other things".
The hint of rust on the young Italian's boots may have accounted for his failure to pull Manchester City almost immediately level. A long ball from Samir Nasri found him with far more time in front of goal that he probably knew he had and though the shot may have stung Helton's hands it was directed too close to the goalkeeper.
As the game wore on, Manchester City came ever closer. The second half was barely five minutes old when Micah Richards's muscular run ended with the ball slapping against Porto's post and then came the equaliser and away goal from an unthreatening ball that Alvaro Peireira attempted to direct into his goalkeeper's arms and succeeded only in steering it into Helton's net. It was a self-inflicted wound and one that is likely to prove fatal.
Balotelli and Toure 'were racially abused'
Manchester City have made an official complaint to Uefa about alleged racist abuse directed at Mario Balotelli and Yaya Touré during their 2-1 Europa League victory over Porto last night. Balotelli was the recipient of monkey chants and was booed when he was substituted in the Estadio do Dragao. Although the City manager, Roberto Mancini, said he had not heard the abuse, the club submitted a complaint to the Uefa delegate in Oporto immediately after the final whistle.
Touré said: "This is why we love the Premier League. This sort of thing never happens there. Perhaps at foreign clubs they don't expect black players to perform well but this is football and perhaps we can use this to make the game more open." The abuse flared when Touré, who set up the winning goal, disputed a decision with the Turkish referee, Cuneyt Cakir. The abuse was said to have shocked his brother, Kolo, who was sitting in the stands.
Man of the match Y Touré.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee C Cakir (Tur).
Sporting chance still exists of City meeting
Sporting twice came from behind in Poland to earn a 2-2 first-leg draw with Legia Warsaw, with the eventual winners going on to host the victors of the Porto-Manchester City match in the last 16.
In Russia, Manchester United's opponents could be Lokomotiv Moscow after they came from behind to beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1, while PSV triumphed 2-1 at Trabzonspor, making the Dutch side favourites to progress to a last-16 tie with either Stoke or Valencia.