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Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Sports

UEFA Champions League

Do or die for City

Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo attends a training session at Madrid Sport City yesterday on the eve of their Champions League match against Manchester City.Photo: AFP

Manchester City's first tilt at Champions League glory ended in a heartbreaking group stage exit a year ago having been drawn in a tough group - though the club then went on to lift the Premier League crown.

Many observers will feel lightning is likely to strike twice as the signs are this season could prove a virtual re-run of last.

City pipped neighbours United to the Premier League post in May and now lead their local rivals by a point after a weekend steamrollering of Aston Villa.

Sadly for Roberto Mancini's men, Wednesday's opponents Real Madrid are not Villa.

Jose Mourinho's side come to Manchester knowing they cannot risk leaving empty-handed as the nine-time champions seek to close the Group D door firmly shut on a City side who have taken just two points from their opening four fixtures.

It could have been so different for Mancini's side - they were on the brink of victory in the Bernabeu before Karim Benzema and Ronaldo overturned a 2-1 deficit in the last five minutes.

Instead of pulling off a win which would have left them a point clear of the Spaniards, City instead trail Mourinho's side by five points and group leaders Dortmund by six to stare another premature elimination in the face.

Mancini concedes that the odds are stacked against City but after wiping the floor with Villa he knows the club are in the global spotlight on Wednesday and should make the most of the occasion.

"I think we have few chances to go through but it is important to do a good job," said the Italian.

Striker Sergio Aguero, on a hot streak with four goals in three games, says the team have to be single-minded as their mission is crystal clear.

"The truth is we have to win so we are going to go out and win however we can," said the Argentine forward.

If the Dutch can beat the Germans - and should Real lose - then Ajax would draw level on points with Mourinho's 'meringues'.

The Portuguese, hoping to end a barren decade for Real and become the first man to lead three clubs to glory after wins with Porto and then Inter Milan, reaches a milestone Wednesday as he will become at 49 the youngest coach to sit in the dugout for 100 Champions League matches.

Otheres to reach the ton-up mark are Carlo Ancelotti - aged 51 - Arsene Wenger (58), Ottmar Hitzfeld (58) and Alex Ferguson (62).

As City teeter on the brink, Arsenal will hope to join Manchester United as English participants in the knockout stages but the Gunners will at least need to beat French champions Montpellier at the Emirates while hoping that Schalke put Greek outfit Olympiakos in their place.

Schalke took four points off Wenger's side and lead Group B by a point from Arsenal - but Olympiakos are only a point further back after beating Montpellier.

If the Londoners drop points and the Greeks spring a surprise or even draw in Germany the group would be thrown wide open.

Arsenal have a curiously poor home record in the competition against French sides, with no wins in four previous encounters.

Visiting AC Milan will meanwhile look to hold off Belgium's Anderlecht and avoid falling at the group stage for the first time in 13 seasons.

Massimiliano Allegri's men only lead the Belgians by one point with Malaga having already wrapped up qualification after drawing in Italy.

Zenit St Petersburg will hope to stay in the mix by beating Malaga, who have piled up 10 points already in this their debut season.

Two-time European champions Porto have already qualified from Group A, likewise with 10 points on the board even before they host a Dinamo Zagreb side who have lost all four of their contests to date.

Paris Saint Germain should accompany the Portuguese to the last 16 as they have a five-point advantage over their Wednesday hosts Dynamo Kiev.

FIXTURES
Wednesday

Porto (POR) v Dinamo Zagreb (CRO), Dynamo Kiev (UKR) v Paris Saint Germain (FRA), Arsenal v Montpellier (FRA), Schalke (GER) v Olympiakos (GRE), Anderlecht (BEL) v AC Milan (ITA), Zenit St Petersburg (RUS) v Malaga (ESP), Manchester City v Real Madrid (ESP), Ajax (NED) v Borussia Dortmund (GER)

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