City’s hopes of progressing to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League may be over, but pride was restored after a stirring second-half fight-back against 10-man Real Madrid earned a hard-fought 1-1 draw.
With Madrid rampant in the early stages of the first-half, the Blues fell behind to a Karim Benzema goal on ten minutes and could have been dead and buried as the La Liga champions attacked at will.
But City dug in, were a different team after the break and Sergio Aguero restored parity from the spot on 73 minutes and it was Madrid who were forced to hang on as the hosts piled forward looking for a winner.
Though it wasn’t to be, at least the Blues proved - once again - they are more than a match for a team Roberto Mancini believes is among the best in the world.
A bank of cameras greeted the teams as they came out with interest from the word's media in this game at fever pitch, though the majority of lenses were, inevitably, pointed at Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Mourinho had all-but written off City’s chances of qualification at the Press conference the day before and stated even if his team lost this match, the Blues’ fate was still sealed.
Mancini and his players would have paid little or no attention to those comments – anything less than three points from this game and qualification was impossible anyway – they didn’t need anyone to tell them as much!
What wasn’t needed in what was effectively the last chance saloon, was an early set-back - yet with just ten minutes gone, that’s exactly what happened and it was, unfortunately, down to poor defending.
Maicon failed to track Benzema as a deep cross was lofted into the six-yard box and the unmarked Frenchman simply had to guide the ball past Hart, which he did with time to spare.
The warning signs has been there as Khedira twice went close before, but weren’t heeded and in the minutes after the goal, only a heroic clearance off the line by Zabaleta from Ronaldo’s impish lob prevented City’s night being over before it had really begun.
Hart made a superb save when Khedira again burst through as the Blues continued look out of sorts and disorganised – but then the running and discipline of the visitors was a cut above anything the Premier League has had to offer so far this season.
As the frustration grew, Yaya Toure picked up a yellow card that will keep him out of the trip to Dortmund and a series of petty fouls were committed by both sides. The Blues reverted back to 4-4-2 just past the half-hour mark in a bid to find a foothold in a game that threatened to run away from them at one point.
City’s best attempt in the first 45 minutes was a Maicon one-two with Aguero that saw the Brazilian’s low drive go a foot wide – other than that, it had been a quiet night for Iker Casillas in the Madrid goal.
The second-half simply had to be better - and it was.
Javi Garcia replaced Kolarov at the break and with a more balanced look to the side, City at last began to press the visitors back with man-of-the-match Silva at the heart of almost every attack, but the elusive equaliser just wouldn’t come.
Casillas saved brilliantly from Aguero just past the hour as the Argentine volleyed from point-blank range, but the City striker will be disappointed he didn’t score from such a great position - but his perseverance would eventually pay off.
With just over15 minutes to go, the break the sell-out crowd had craved for came as Toure played a sumptuous ball to Dzeko who in turn flicked it into the path of Aguero who was clumsily brought down by Arbeloa.
The referee gave the penalty and sent the Madrid defender off – Aguero made no mistake from the spot and suddenly, hopes were revived. The crowd, at last lifted and raucous, roared their appreciation – this is what Champions League nights are all about.
The Blues pressed for a winner but ultimately had to settle for a point on the night. Mourinho had been right and the dropped points against Ajax and Dortmund have proved costly in the end.
There is still the possibility of Europa League football, but City will need to win in Germany and hope Madrid take something from their final game against Ajax.