Champions League: Manchester City find crumb of comfort on visit to Europe’s top table
Manchester City 1 Napoli 1: Manchester City had Aleksandar Kolarov to thank for ensuring their much-anticipated Champions League debut did not become an anti-climax at home to Napoli.
The Serbian defender succeeded in securing a share of the points, on a night when the likes of Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri, Edin Dzeko, David Silva and, late on, Carlos Tevez failed to score.
The equaliser was no less than City deserved having dominated throughout, hitting the woodwork twice, but the goal had seemed unlikely with the hosts looking like they had burned themselves out.
Napoli had probably anticipated an attacking hailstorm at the Etihad Stadium and but for a couple of chances — Ezequiel Lavezzi hitting the crossbar for instance — they bided their time.
Their plans appeared to have worked when Edison Cavani, Serie A's leading goalscorer last season, snatched a classic counter-attacking goal. But Kolarov, who has still to convince after more than a season at City, proved the unlikely hero.
City captain Vincent Kompany wished the match had not been quite so thrilling, saying: “It was more open than I would have hoped.
“We should maybe have scored a goal or two in the first half and it would not have been so difficult in the second.
“It's a special occasion, everything is completely different to what we are used to in the Premier League.
“Today we played against a very good Napoli side, credit to them, they did what they needed to do.
“We'll just learn from this game and we have a good enough team to see this through.”
Kolarov added: “It was a good draw for us, it was important we didn't lose the game.”
Yaya Toure went close in the 35th minute. After sprinting 60 yards, having intercepted a corner on the edge of his own penalty area, he released Aguero in the inside-right position.
The Argentina striker ran into the penalty area, cut the ball back from the byline and Toure seemed destined to score only for the ball to hit the crossbar.
City had had a similar escape in the 18th minute when Kompany's slip allowed Lavezzi into the box and curl a right-footed shot past Joe Hart which came back off the woodwork.
Kolarov's inswinging free-kick from wide on the right evaded everyone in the penalty area but not Morgan De Sanctis, who palmed it around the post.
Despite enjoying the majority of possession City were given occasional reminders that at this level no team can be underestimated.
After the restart they were indebted to Kompany's goalline clearance for preventing Marek Hamsik's volley under Hart producing the opening goal.
City started to run out of ideas with 25 minutes to go.
The canny Italian side had waited patiently for this opportunity and in the 69th minute they seized it with clinical precision, having seen Hamsik denied a genuine goalscoring chance by the sliding Pablo Zabaleta.
Gareth Barry lost possession 10 yards outside the Napoli penalty area and left wing-back Christian Maggio raced 50 yards downfield to put Cavani through on the right of the box, and he slid a shot under Hart. City's response was instantaneous with Aguero sidefooting Samir Nasri's near-post cross against the crossbar.
But in a side brimming with attacking options Kolarov showed them all how it should be done. His 75th-minute free-kick from the right of the area dipped over the wall and in at the near post.
Dzeko pushed his shot on the turn wide from 12 yards before he too made way for Carlos Tevez for the final 10 minutes but even the talismanic Argentinian could not produce a winner.
As a starting point on their return to Europe's elite after a 43-year absence it was not too bad for City.