A year after a rather more glorious failure in their first attempt at scaling the Champions League mountain, Manchester City were forced to give up on what had become an unlikely try at scrambling up the foothills to the Europa League, going out of the competition with the worst ever record for an English club in the group stages.
A victory would have qualified them, as third-placed Ajax were never in contention to win away to Real Madrid, and against an under-strength Borussia Dortmund the possibility was there at least until just before the hour, when the reserve striker Julian Schieber scored the only goal. The German champions could, however, easily have added to that and although City were comfortable in the first half they rarely looked like scoring, even towards the end after three attacking substitutions.
In the cold light of Wednesday morning after an even colder night in the Ruhr industrial area, finishing bottom may not seem such a bad thing, Roberto Mancini having already hinted that he would have fielded a virtual second team in Europe so as not to distract from the main objective of retaining the Premier League title. That target will come back into focus immediately as City begin preparing for Sunday's huge derby at home to Manchester United. There appeared to be no new injuries, which was one blessing.
Mancini said that he was disappointed rather than embarrassed by finishing fourth. "You can't be embarrassed when you play 100 per cent," he said. "I don't think we lost our application tonight. We wanted to stay in the Europa League because it's another competition. But if you want to win games you have to score but at the moment we have this big problem. We need to resolve this problem."
It was not so much a matter of missing good chances as failing to create them; City managed four attempts on target to Borussia's 10. Samir Nasri and Scott Sinclair, on his Champions League debut, were peripheral figures on the flanks and were both substituted and although Carlos Tevez worked hard and was their best outfield player, his one real scoring chance was beaten away by the home goalkeeper and captain Roman Weidenfeller.
They fielded a strong enough side; only three changes to the side held to a rare home draw by Everton on Saturday were all enforced, since Aleksandar Kolarov and David Silva were injured and Yaya Touré was suspended. The guile and drive of the latter pair were understandably missed, Javi Garcia offering a more defensive approach alongside Gareth Barry in midfield. Joleon Lescott, often out of favour recently, stayed in the centre of defence as Matija Nastasic, the Serbian teenager, came in at left-back to give a composed display for one so young.
Dortmund were in the happy position of being able to rest as many players as they wanted and they duly did so, making six changes and leaving out the new wunderkind Mario Götze, which was probably just as well for City. The much admired Polish pair Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski sat shivering on the bench until the second half, when Dortmund seemed to step up into a gear that their visitors could not begin to match.
There was an end-of-term air about the home side, even with the crowd in this wonderful stadium making their usual thunderous din; unperturbed by seats being installed in their standing area for European games, they simply stood regardless. The team indulged in some extravagant moments like the centre-half Mats Hummels beating three men in a run from the back but overall they were not as fluent as normal, probably because of all the changes from Saturday's 1-1 draw at Bayern Munich.
City had held their own in a generally uneventful first half in which each goalkeeper was required to make only a couple of saves. Hart's first came from the right-back Oliver Kirch after a cross by Ivan Perisic was not cleared; later he denied Perisic and appeared to push away a drive by the outstanding midfielder Marco Reus, although a goal-kick was given.
Edin Dzeko, managing to stay onside for almost the first time, produced one dangerous low cross, diverted for a corner by Marcel Schmelzer with Tevez homing in on it and his low 25-yard strike was turned away for one of several City corners.
It might have been seen was an illustration of Dortmund's approach that at half-time they gave Reus a rest brought on Blaszczykowski in his familiar position wide on the right. Within 12 minutes, however, they had forced four good chances and scored from the last of them.
Hummels, stretching, was almost on the end of Schmelzer's free-kick and Perisic's exciting volley from 20 yards was pushed over by Hart, who then had to go low to his left to save from Kevin Grosskreutz. Finally, in the 57th minute Blaszczykowski crossed low from the right for Schieber to slide in a goal that suddenly looked as though it was coming. A minute later Schieber was clear but tried to chip Hart, who was tall enough to hold the ball.
City replaced Dzeko and the ineffective Sinclair with Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli and a little later Pablo Zabaleta was sent on for Nasri as Mancini changed to wing-backs.
Tevez and then Aguero had shots beaten out by Weidenfeller but Borussia kept the pressure turned up by sending for Lewandowski, who forced Hart into a brave block near the end. World domination again seemed a long, long way away.
Man of the match Reus.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee M Mazic (Serb).
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