Man City rock bottom; Milan, Real stunned

Milan, Real Madrid stunned in Europe

THEO RUIZENAAR
Last updated 10:09 25/10/2012
Joe Hart
Reuters
ON THE BALL: Manchester City's Joe Hart steps forward to grab a ball in the penalty area as Ajax's Daley Blind advances during their Champions League match.

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Ajax Amsterdam came from a goal down to beat Manchester City 3-1 today and leave the Premier League champions facing a major battle to reach the Champions League knockout stage.

Samir Nasri fired City ahead from James Milner's pass midway through the first half but the Dutch side levelled on the stroke of halftime when Siem de Jong crisply dispatched Ricardo van Rhijn's cross from the right.

Defender Niklas Moisander guided in a corner to restore Ajax's lead on 57 minutes and there was no way back for City when Christian Eriksen's shot took a deflection off Gael Clichy to wrongfoot Joe Hart 11 minutes later.

Borussia Dortmund top Group G on seven points from three games after beating Real Madrid 2-1. Real have six points followed by Ajax (three) and City (one).

City manager Roberto Mancini, whose side suffered a group stage elimination in their debut campaign in the continent's elite competition last season, said it needed a "miracle" for the Abu Dhabi-owned club to now reach the last 16.

"They were better than us. They played better football. It is my fault, I didn't prepare well for the game and I take the blame," the Italian said.

"I thought in one way and it was different. When you prepare in one way and it is a different game it is difficult.

"We had more chances to score and in the Champions League you need to score. It is my fault, I repeat. We change for five minutes to three at the back, but we always have 11 players.

"I don't think that is important. Three, four, five, six or seven defenders. If someone wants that as an excuse than ok, but it's not the reason. It is very difficult to qualify now. It would be a miracle."

Defender Micah Richards appeared to question Mancini's tactics, telling Sky Sports: "Three at the back is something that we have not worked on a lot. It is a hard system because we are not used to it, I think the players prefer a 4-4-2 but he is the manager and we'll do what he says."

Ajax manager Frank de Boer said his side's equaliser late in the first half had come at a crucial moment.

"That changed a lot for us," said De Boer. "Now we could underline the things that went wrong in the first half and go for a win in the second half.

"We wanted to see a team that dared to play our football, and that is what I saw. Then you can lose a match, but if you play like that the chance you will win is bigger."

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Victory was Ajax's first at home against an English opponent in 32 years, the last coming against Nottingham Forest in 1980.

DORTMUND OUTCLASS REAL MADRID

Borussia Dortmund leapfrogged Real Madrid at the top of Champions League Group D after outclassing the nine-times European Cup winners 2-1.

Producing the same brand of attacking football that has earned them back-to-back Bundesliga titles, the Germans dominated for much of the game and grabbed a 36th-minute lead through Robert Lewandowski.

Real briefly silenced the sellout 65,000 crowd at the Westfalen Stadium with an equaliser from Cristiano Ronaldo's delicate lob two minutes later but they created few chances in a one-sided second half.

Dortmund grabbed the winner with a sweet, first-time shot from defender Marcel Schmelzer in the 64th minute after a weak punch by Real keeper Iker Casillas who had made a string of superb saves to keep his team in the game.

The Germans now have seven points from three games, one ahead of second-placed Real. For Ronaldo it was the first Champions League game he has lost after scoring a goal.

"Real remain the favourites in our group. This is not yet the decisive result," Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp told reporters.

"It is important to know that with the quality of players we have we can take on the big teams and we showed it today. We had to be bold, keep possession and then also secure our attacking moves."

The Spaniards, who now have only one victory in 24 games against German clubs, went into the match without injured defenders Marcelo, Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Coentrao.

BIG CHANCES

Dortmund quickly found their rhythm and twice Lewandowski threatened after Sebastian Kehl had tested Casillas with a 22-metre drive.

Captain Kehl also unleashed a powerful shot from the edge of the box but Casillas, at full stretch, palmed the ball over the bar.

The Spain keeper, though, was helpless when Lewandowski raced into the box after centre half Pepe had surrendered possession in midfield and fired the ball just inside the post.

With Dortmund fans still celebrating, Ronaldo latched on to a perfect 30-metre crossfield pass from Mesut Ozil to beat keeper Roman Weidenfeller.

The goal meant Real have now scored in 14 consecutive away matches in the competition, equalling the all-time record held by Bayern Munich and Barcelona.

Casillas again came to Real's rescue early in the second half, blocking a close-range effort from Mario Goetze and punching away a dangerous Marco Reus free kick as Dortmund took complete control.

With Real posing hardly any threat and unable to break free as the opposition pressed the ball deep in their half, Dortmund launched attack after attack and they were rewarded when Schmelzer thundered a low left-foot drive beyond Casillas.

"We could not make the most of our chances up front," said Real coach Jose Mourinho.

Asked whether he had to change his tactics after an injury to midfielder Sami Khedira after 20 minutes meant he had to bring on Luka Modric, the Portuguese replied: "I have to say that this was the case.

"I had said before that the bill has to be balanced on our side because of the injuries. We had to pay the bill and that is what happened today."

JOAQUIN STRIKE LIFTS MALAGA

Joaquin crowned a memorable night for Champions League debutants Malaga and rubbed salt in the wounds of ailing seven-times winners AC Milan when his neat second-half goal secured a 1-0 win for the La Liga side in Group C.

The former Spain winger went from potential villain when he fluffed a 44th-minute penalty to hero when he raced on to Manuel Iturra's clever pass in the 64th minute and slotted past Milan goalkeeper Marco Amelia off a post.

It was another sweet moment for the 31-year-old crowd favourite, who missed a spot kick against Real Valladolid in La Liga on Saturday but went on to score the winner, and he was given a huge ovation when he was substituted late in the game.

"I hit it low but my standing foot slipped and the ball went over," he told Spanish television when asked about the penalty miss.

"It leaves you feeling pretty low but you have to keep faith and again I did that and again I scored.

"If the coach puts me forward to take another penalty I'll do it but, missing twice, I don't think there'll be a third."

Malaga's impressive performance in what was probably the biggest game in the Andalusian club's history continued their superb start to the season after a difficult summer disrupted by cashflow problems and speculation their Qatari owner was looking to sell up.

They have a five-point cushion at the top of the group with nine points from three matches, with Milan on four, and are within touching distance of a place in the knockout stage.

Zenit St Petersburg have three points in third after the Russians' 1-0 win at home to Anderlecht on Wednesday, with the Belgian side on one.

MEMORABLE NIGHT

Malaga started briskly on a damp night on the southern Spanish coast and dangerous playmaker Isco twice went close before the referee harshly ruled Kevin Constant had felled Jesus Gamez just inside the area.

Joaquin drove his spot kick high towards goal but it skimmed the top of the crossbar and flew into the crowd, who immediately began chanting his name to try to lift his spirits.

Milan, who have made a woeful start to the Serie A season after selling several of their best players, had little to offer, with Stephan El Shaarawy the only genuine threat.

The 19-year-old drew a sharp save from Willy Caballero late on and defender Philippe Mexes missed a good chance at a corner

moments later but ultimately they were well beaten.

In only their second European campaign, Malaga are yet to concede a goal in five Champions League outings, including qualifiers, and they have only conceded three goals in 11 home matches in Europe.

"We knew that Malaga plays very well at home and they have some great players with a huge amount of quality," Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri told a news conference.

"Right now they are the favourites to get through and top the group.

"But we are more or less in a tranquil position so now we focus on this weekend's match against Genoa."

It was a memorable night for the Malaga fans thronging their 29,500-capacity Rosaleda stadium. They were in fine voice despite the heavy rain and thoroughly enjoying their first taste of life among Europe's footballing elite.

Club owner Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nassar Al Thani, a member of the Qatar royal family, was at the Rosaleda to enjoy Malaga's victory and pledged more investment in the club in a post-match interview with Spanish TV.

"We would never have imagined it," Joaquin said. "In the summer everything was up in the air, uncertainty every morning and look at us now."

KERZHAKOV'S 200TH GOAL GIVES ZENIT VICTORY

Alexander Kerzhakov scored the 200th goal of his career as Zenit St Petersburg edged out Anderlecht 1-0 to earn their first points in this season's Champions League.

The Russia striker calmly converted a 72nd-minute spot kick after defender Bram Nuytinck had pulled down Alexander Anyukov following a quickly-taken free kick.

Kerzhakov scored a hat-trick in Zenit's 3-1 win over Anderlecht when they last met in European competition two years ago.

The home side dominated most of the match but it was Anderlecht striker Milan Jovanovic who had the best chance to break the deadlock before Kerzhakov's goal when he failed to hit the target after being sent clear early in the first half.

At the other end Brazil striker Hulk, who joined Zenit for a club record fee of 60 million euros ($US77.81 million) last month, also went close with a powerful free kick from the edge of the box a few minutes later.

Anderlecht, missing leading scorer Dieudonne Mbokani of Congo after he returned from international duty with a broken nose, created several chances but failed to score for the third consecutive game in the competition.

Despite their defeat Anderlecht coach John van den Brom hailed his team's work ethic.

"Of course I'm disappointed with the outcome but really proud of my team, the way we played tonight," he told reporters.

"As for the penalty I'm not complaining although I haven't seen the replay."

BACK IN CONTENTION

The victory put Zenit back in contention for a place in the knockout stages after they had lost their first two matches.

With three points, the Russian champions moved past Anderlecht (one) into third place behind Malaga (six) and AC Milan (four) who were playing later on Wednesday.

Jovanovic had a strong penalty claim waved away in the second half after being taken down by a Zenit defender and the home side then had to withstand late pressure from the Belgian champions.

The win helped ease the pressure on Zenit who have been in turmoil for the past month with several senior players, according to media reports, unhappy that the club splashed out more than $100 million on Hulk and Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel.

Zenit demoted Russia captain Igor Denisov to the reserve team last month after the midfielder had refused to play and issued an ultimatum to renegotiate his contract.

"I'm glad we got this win. We really needed it and we need to keep winning," said Italian coach Luciano Spalletti.

"We're in the process of changing our attacking patterns and we need a bit more time before we can use it to the full potential. But we must keep working."

- Reuters

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