PREMIER LEADERS STUMBLE

Table-topping Man City facing premature end to European adventure after shock defeat

NAPOLI 2 vs MANCHESTER CITY 1

MANCHESTER CITY manager Roberto Mancini insists his side’s Champions League dream is still alive despite staring down the barrel of an embarrassing group stage exit following last night’s catastrophic defeat in Naples.

A brace from City transfer target Edinson Cavani saw the Premier League leaders surrender their nine-match winning streak and, with it, the luxury of determining their own destiny.

The big-spending Blues were expected to challenge the continent’s heavyweights, despite this being their debut season in Europe’s premier club competition. But hopes of progression now rest on Villarreal, pointless thus far, preventing Napoli from winning at El Madrigal in a fortnight’s time, while City must beat Bayern Munich at Etihad Stadium.

It looks a tall order, but Mancini is refusing to abandon hope.

“It is 70 per cent to Napoli and 30 per cent to us,” said Mancini when asked how he rated his side’s chances of qualifying. “But in football anything can happen. If Villarreal play a serious match they can get a result. It is important we play our game against Bayern Munich.

“Occasionally you can lose matches, especially in the Champions League. I am not too disappointed. We have another match to play and if we don’t qualify we will play Europa League.

“Our target was to go into the second stage and at this moment we are depending on other teams.”

Up until Cavani’s opener City had produced the textbook European away performance, silencing the raucous home crowd and dominating possession, before a moment of sloppiness changed the complexion of the match.

As they had done in Munich on matchday two, City switched off at a set-piece and allowed Cavani too much space at the near post. The Uruguay striker glanced on Ezequiel Lavezzi’s 18th minute corner, and the ball flicked off Vincent Kompany and squirted past Joe Hart.

It took City only 15 minutes to draw level, after Salvatore Aronica coughed up possession to David Silva. When Morgan de Sanctis could only parry the Spaniard’s shot, Mario Balotelli was on hand to tap home his 10th goal in his last nine appearances.

The Italian appeared unwell as he left the field at half-time but it was his manager who was left sickened by his side’s start to the second period.

Just four minutes after the re-start Andrea Dossena’s overlapping run went untracked and his centre was met on the half-volley by Cavani, whose shot had just enough power to squirm through Hart’s hands.

The England goalkeeper kept his side in the contest with smothering saves from Lavezzi and Christian Maggio, while Marek Hamsik struck the post, and at the other end Balotelli missed a glorious headed chance.