Manchester City ended in ecstatic mood and with mission accomplished: a semi-final berth where they meet Paris Saint-German and which keeps alive their tilt at an unprecedented quadruple. This is the furthest City have journeyed under Pep Guardiola and only a second appearance in the Champions League last four, following the defeat by Real Madrid in 2016 when Manuel Pellegrini was in charge.
Guardiola’s men are there because they found an edge after going behind early on in the night. Phil Foden’s thunderbolt on 75 minutes sealed a victory that will have belief surging that they can go all the way. City’s was a second-half display of intent after an insipid opening 45 minutes in which they fell behind to Jude Bellingham’s strike on the quarter-hour and were unable to dismantle Borussia Dortmund as they do most domestic opponents with ease.
If the gods proved kind – Emre Can conceding a penalty (which Riyad Mahrez converted) for a head-then-arm infringement seemed harsh – Guardiola’s men deserved this for refusing to buckle. As Ilkay Gündogan said: “Everyone showed character. We didn’t play well at all in the first 15 minutes. We struggled, were not brave enough, were a bit scared to lose something. I think that was quite obvious. After conceding, we are able to get back into the game, create a couple of good chances in the first half. Our target at half-time was to come back into the game and to score the first goal in the second half and get the game back into our hands. That’s exactly what we did today and we are proud of that.”
A week ago when losing the opening leg 2-1, the German club had proved lethal in pockets of play, usually when breaking quickly. A first sight of this tactic had Mahmoud Dahoud firing hard at goal – fortunately for Ederson this went straight at him.
The next time Dortmund moved forward they struck via a move that showed up John Stones. When Can pinged a 40-yard pass over the top to Erling Haaland, City’s centre-back was caught out. This allowed the striker to turn the ball back to Dahoud. His shot was deflected to Bellingham who beat Ederson to the latter’s left, the precocious 17-year-old following a maiden Bundesliga strike at the weekend with a first in this competition that makes him the youngest English player to have scored in the Champions League.
City were rocked. Dortmund came at them again almost instantly after the restart, Marco Reus’s corner giving Manuel Akanji a free header that was simple for Ederson to scoop up. On the touchline Guardiola’s stare blared concern.
What he saw next was City come through a frantic few moments to threaten Marwin Hitz’s goal as Kevin De Bruyne crashed the ball off the bar. Then, a little later, the Belgian swerved a free-kick from the left towards the near post, Reus heading away. This was encouraging for City.
In what became a siege on Dortmund, a cute Foden touch allowed him to find a Mahrez raid to the right post, the Algerian going close to an equaliser. Edin Terzic’s side were already in hanging-on mode. Oleksandr Zinchenko went near to confirming the wisdom of his inclusion (ahead of João Cancelo) but the left-back’s header was plucked from the air by Hitz.
The question seemed not if but when City would draw level in the second half. They began it with two De Bruyne corners delivered from the left. Each was defended with ease at the near post. The pattern was set, though. It was a resumption of the opening period – Dortmund having to dig deep to defend close to Hitz’s goal – and their next close shave had the keeper tipping a Zinchenko cross-shot over. This time De Bruyne took the corner short but again the home team remained intact. Yet next came the pivotal moment: in the area Can went to head clear and the ball hit his left arm and after a delay VAR supported the decision of the referee, Carlos del Cerro Grande, to award a penalty.
Mahrez steadied himself, then smashed home to Hitz’s left, and City were just over 30 minutes from the semi-finals. “It was a good one – he showed personality,” said Guardiola of Mahrez.
The equation now was Dortmund required a goal to take the tie into extra-time. A swift swivel-and-shot from Dahoud was blocked but showed his side were not finished and what followed was the contest being compressed in the middle third. But Foden, enjoying the season of his nascent career, intervened and the delight on Guardiola’s face as his protege sprinted to him for a hug spoke of relief that a crucial barrier had been cleared. Their face-off with PSG awaits.