Two strikers from Argentina dominated the Champions League last night, one playing in a team among the favourites to win the competition (although holders Real Madrid and German champions Bayern Munich would beg to differ), the other entering into the last chance saloon with victory essential for his side's continued interest in the group stages. Both Lionel Messi and Sergio ('Kun') Aguero enjoyed unforgettable nights as they not only helped their sides to impressive results, but scored hat-tricks to further enhance their impressive pedigrees.
The mercurial Messi yet again took centre stage for the once all conquering Barcelona as they cantered to a 4-0 success away to Apoel Nicosia, with both sides reduced to ten men by the final whistle. It was their latest acquisition, Luis Suarez who opened the floodgates for the Spanish maestros, but Messi was not to be upstaged as he added goals two, three and four to become the all time leading goalscorer in Champions League history. It is perhaps indicative of many astute observers of the game who feel that their best days are behind them, that such a dominant display still leaves them a point behind Paris Saint- Germain in Group F. PSG were not quite as convincing last night against Ajax as Barca, but still came through unscathed with a 3-1 win on home soil. Their joint threat of Edinson Cavani (twice) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic had just too much firepower for the Dutch side, for whom "wonderkid" Davy Klaassen had equalised midway through the second period, before late goals sealed the tie for the hosts.
Whereas Barcelona had already secured their qualifying place for the next stage of the competition prior to last night, the challenge facing the spluttering Premier League champions seemed an all together tougher proposition, as they hosted a Bayern Munich side (until last night) boasting a perfect qualifying record in the group. They knew that should they fail to take three points against the German giants and there was a winner in the other group match between CSKA and Roma, then ambitions of European success for this season (at least in the 'premier' competition) could be forgotten. They may have been slightly buoyed by the news that the early kick-off ended in a 1-1 draw, to leave both sides within touching distance of City, but they still had to meet their side of the 'bargain'.
All seemed to be going well when Aguero ensured his body was between the man and the ball, as Mehdi Benatia attempted to tackle him in the box. As City's star man picked himself up off the floor, the referee was already pointing to the penalty spot and brandishing a red card towards the offending tackler. Aguero himself converted the kick and City seemed to be in prime position. This European campaign has seen a string of wasted opportunities for the blue side of the city of Manchester though and it became worryingly easy for the Germans to maintain their presence in the tie, despite being a man down. Concern became consternation in the lead up to half-time as Bayern not only equalised through a slightly peculiar free-kick strike from Xabi Alonso (Joe Hart seemed to line up the wall all wrong as a slightly scuffed shot dribbled into the net), but then took an unexpected lead through Robert Lewandowski's headed goal.
The second-half was fast fading away until with five minutes remaining, Aguero reminded the Etihad faithful why they idolise him so much to draw the sides level. Relief turned to unbridled delirium in injury time, as their star marksman punctured the Germans' defence yet again to 'steal' the win. Manager Manuel Pellegrini even had the "sense" to pull him off before the end to afford him the acclaim of the fans.
City's unlikely victory still leaves qualification to the next phase of the competition in the balance. Bayern have no such worries as they are through as group winners, but with the other three teams all tied on five points it is all to play for in the final round of matches. City need a win in Italy against Roma, but even then a pre-requisite is that Bayern regain their usual composure to beat CSKA at home.
In the 2004 - 2005 season, an equally unlikely comeback victory by Liverpool at home to Olympiakos proved to be the springboard to their fifth European Cup / Champions League victory. Can this success be the catalyst to City claiming their first ? Time will tell, but at least for now they have been granted a stay of execution thanks to Aguero. #Football #Manchester City