Big Joe shows plenty of Heart

Manchester City F.C. 0-0 Real Madrid C.F.

(CL semi-final, 1st leg)

"Sorry sir, but the flight has closed."


"We paged you, and made an announcement for last call for passengers."


"Everyone is on board and the plane is ready to go."

I looked at my son, and he looked back at me.

Two blank faces.

"We just got here. Came straight through security and came straight to the gate. We didn't faff about like," I explained.

One of the airline staff had gone to get permission from the pilot to let us on the flight, and a quick look at the time confirmed it was 6.58 a.m.

Yet our departure time was 7.10 a.m., meaning the plane was sat there waiting for us. Surely they wouldn't not let us on!

"Can we go through, or do I need to start to panic?" I asked.

More blank faces.

There was no point kicking off or making a fuss, this one was now beyond our control. I took a deep breath.

We waited.

A squeaky minute later, then something of a commotion, and two or three people appeared. Our boarding cards were scanned by one, another said the pilot said it was okay, and we were personally escorted to the plane by a third.


And so after something of a bumpy and busy flight we arrived in Manchester, from Shannon, on time, for the big game.

The most successful European club football side were on the menu, with United ex-player and international model Cristiano Ronaldo the dish of the day - provided he was passed fit to play.

Pre-match build up yielded typical Manchester weather ; glorious sunshine followed by torrential hailstorm!


Sat outside Manchester airport writing my blog

So as we huffed and puffed up the stairs to the third tier of the South Stand, a few hours later, it was quickly evident that we were seated in the upper echelons of a packed City of Manchester stadium - our match tickets organised courtesy of the ever-gentlemanly Mick Hennebury at MCFC Overseas Supporters Club - Limerick Branch.

What an amazing atmosphere!!!

Flags waved and a full-house capacity at the so-called "Emptyhad" bristled with optimistic enthusiasm, yet still booed the now infamous Champions League anthem, synonymous with UEFA and their corrupt ambassadors, corrupt officials, corrupt draws, and corrupt lawyers.

But nonetheless it was an historic occasion, and as City kicked off, within a minute good play from Silva saw the ever-positive de Bruyne on the move, but his turn was blocked by a combination of Carvajal and Pepe.

In the 6th minute, good play by Silva saw a cross blocked, but a goal kick was awarded rather than a corner. 

The City faithful were further disgruntled within a couple of minutes - a cynical foul on Fernandhino, by fellow Brazilian Casemiro, not punished with a yellow card.

Then a Jesus Navas cross flew harmlessly into the Real Madrid box since nobody had advanced into the area, before a dangerous ball lofted into the penalty area was collected by the Madrid keeper.

City were showing bite in midfield, and it was a bright and energetic start.

On 13mins a City break, but Silva's defence splitting pass was too strong for Aguero, and it was end to end stuff, as Madrid showed they were keen to break as well.

On 15mins Gareth Bale threw himself to the ground, and gave the referee an imploring look. On this occasion, nothing was given, but sadly, it wouldn't be the first or last time during the match.

A City break down the left with Kevin de Bruyne ensues, after good pressing.

Then on 19mins Real Madrid play the ball out from the back exquisitely, with some nice one-touch play, before a Vazquez dribble in the box comes to nothing as the ball rebounds off him from a challenge by the ever-athletic Otamendi.


On 23mins good City play after some decent possession as Aguero tries to get into the box, precedes another good attack whereby Pepe picks up the first booking of the game for a late challenge on de Bruyne, just outside the box. The resulting free-kick sees Kompany try to steer a header in on goal, but to no avail.

25mins 0-0.

Within a minute, Fernandhino is fouled by a late challenge from Ramos, who slides in with his studs on his ankle, but somewhat inexplicably, the referee decides against booking the defender. The ensuing free comes to nothing, as a tame Otamendi header limps wide.

It becomes evident to the City fans, now rather enthusiastic in their booing, that the referee is being somewhat lenient in his attitude towards the away team and their tendency for late challenges.

As Oasis singer/songwriter Noel Gallagher watches on, some might say, that City will just have to roll with it.

Yet on the upside, there is no doubt as to which side was looking stronger, at this stage.

Within a couple more minutes and good play by Navas in the centre of the park results in a positive break, which causes a rasping de Bruyne shot from outside the box, blocked by Carvajal. City press yet again, but it is evident that Aguero is a yard off the pace, and looking just a fraction less than his usual standard of brilliance, for some reason. The Madrid defence stands firm.

On 33mins Real have their first shot on goal, from Bale, outside the box, and it loops into the arms of Joe Hart after a quick, effective block by Fernando.

A strong Kompany challenge at the back, and City break again, and both Silva and Navas look lively, as the latter is fouled by Kroos, in a somewhat late and blatant challenge, which on another occasion, could easily have yielded a yellow card, but again, no booking ensues.

Somewhat ironically, the ref does produce a yellow shortly after, for David Silva, who in his first challenge of the game, is correctly adjudged to have impeded Gareth Bale unfairly. Rather unfortunately, the City wizard is injured in the process, and within a minute signals to the bench he needs to come off, to be replaced by the young and impressive Kelechi Iheanacho.

On 43mins City break, but Fernandhino is immediately surrounded by no less than four Madrid midfielders, whom easily regain possession, before Benzema blazes a shot over the bar after a Pepe pass following a Madrid corner.

The officials announce two additional minutes, during which the only thing of note, was an outrageously delightful flick by Otamendi, after a huge sliding tackle wins him possession. A rare display of finesse, for a central defender!

Thankfully, the half-time break allowed us to sit down for a wee while. Although everyone had seats, it was like the old days in the Kippax at Maine Road.

All and sundry had stood, singing and chanting throughout the entire first 45 minutes.

Not only could I not be bothered going for a cup of Bovril, but also, I was in the thick of a hearty exchange with another Irish-based Blue, from Newcastle West, in County Limerick.

Kai, on the other hand, seemed to have little or no problem relieving his dad of a fiver for a bag of chips, and disappeared henceforth!

Jese replaced Benzema and Real kicked off the second half. Within a minute, Aguero was played in, but fired his shot just over the bar, to "oohs" from the crowd, who had anticipated a net-bulging strike.

Within moments, another ludicrous Bale dive, after a good challenge by Otamendi in the box, but the referee waves away the pony-tailed wingers appeals without brandishing what should have been his second yellow card, for simulation.

And as if the injustice from that wasn't enough, the City fans' derision for the official was exacerbated when Iheanacho was clearly fouled at the other end of the pitch, seconds later, and no free kick was awarded.

On 53mins, Real win a corner, which results in a Ramos header straight into the arms of Hart.

City break, and a Kelechi cross is blocked for a City corner. End to end stuff again, but without any clear cut attempts on goal.

On 60mins Real Madrid press, after a spell of possession, but City clear.

Once again, the home fans are aghast at another refereeing decision, this time a blatant foul on de Bruyne goes unpunished, followed swiftly by a cynical foul on Navas, by Marcelo, which somehow escapes a yellow card.

63mins and Kompany shows strength to usher the ball out of play, and still no clear cut attempts on goal.

City have suffered from a lack of creativity, since the departure of Silva, but they could do with a break from the ref, who was seemingly admonished and rebuked at half time, for not doing more for the Madrid cause, judging by his second half performance.

65mins and Kroos fires a shot wide from outside the box. City consequently break, and KDB is fouled yet again. City press and Navas wins a corner, but the keeper saves down low from a dangerous cross.

Both Zidane and Pellegrini pace the touchline area, but no changes are imminent.

And a spell of possession by Real is countered by a City break, culminating in a de Bruyne cross into the box, which hit seemed to hit the arm of Luka Modric. Needless to say, the appeals were not even considered, before a Jese header hits the bar at the other end.

Modric fires a shot over the bar, and City are slow to counter, perhaps feeling the effects of the high pressing game on their overall stamina.

74mins and Bale shoots wide, after a clever run, followed by Sterling on to replace Navas, who rightly gets a solid round of applause after working his socks off all night long. In between, and somewhat cheekily, Vazquez has the audacity to claim a penalty as the solid Otamendi ensures he makes no progress in the box.

79mins and a after a foul on Aguero not given, a swift bit of skill by Bale ensures he has a run in on the City defence, the challenge by Kompany outside the box, deemed a fair one, despite the Madrid protestations.

Joe Hart gets down low to save with his feet, from a header by Casimero from a corner, and with ten minutes to go, Real are in the ascendancy.


On 80mins, after a brief spell which sees both sides give the ball away, Marcelo finds himself on the edge of the box, and shapes to shoot. Throwing himself onto the floor, whilst laying the ball off, the referee obliges him with a free kick, despite little or no contact, and the City fans find themselves booing yet again, at another bemusingly odd decision from the official.

Three Real Madrid players want the free kick outside the box. But the wall does its job and Kompany heads out the shot from Bale for a corner, from which Pepe finds himself in the box, looking miles offside, and fires a shot in on goal, only for big Joe Hart, to block it from point blank range, spreading himself rather brilliantly.

City break, and despite the fans beseeching a killer through ball, as Aguero and Kelechi sprint ahead of de Bruyne, none is realised, and the exasperation is real.

"England's Number One" chants ring around the stadium in recognition of Joe Hart's bravery and with five minutes to go, more frustration for the home supporters as Aguero is unable to hold the ball up, looking very tired.

A de Bruyne through ball is within a whisker of finding Iheanacho, and the away supporters clap as Isco is brought on for Kroos, with two minutes remaining.

All of a sudden, de Bruyne finds Aguero, who slips a ball through for Sterling, and glory headlines are waiting to be written. Somehow, the young lad's touch lets him down, and the chance goes begging as he is closed down by Pepe, with the opportunity of a winning shot on goal in sight.

An additional two minutes is announced, and as the game is petering out, de Bruyne breaks on the left, jinking past Carvajal, who cynically brings the Ginger Ninja down, in a blatant display of rudimentary defending, for the referee to brandish a yellow card, somewhat theatrically.

Cue more exasperation, from the home support. Madrid keeper Navas saves as KDB fires in the resulting free, tipping over, and after the corner is cleared, the ref blows up for full-time.

Both sides could argue to be happy with that, and although Real Madrid will go into the second leg as hot favourites, City might just upset the apple cart yet again, rebuffing the mainstream media and the RTE, BBC and ITV pundits.

Joe Hart produced an excellent display, and he will have to be even better in the Bernabeu.

Roll on next Wednesday, and we shall see!



Carl J Ashley

April 2016

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