• Nasri scores opening goal but then City crumble, leaving their Champions League campaign close to ruins
Ajax have been champions of Europe four times. Which makes those three primary school-style stars on Manchester City's jersey seem a celebration of piffle. But this is not, of course, the Ajax of yore; rather, similar to Greek mythologists, we must distinguish between Ajax the Great and the current outfit, Ajax the Lesser. If my comprehensive knowledge of the classics (read: hasty consultation of a well-known web-based encyclopedia) is anything to go by, Ajax the Lesser had impressive potential, pulled off some marvelous feats but, ultimately, began to believe he was better than he really was and perished through his own hubris, drowning while attempting to walk on water. There could be a significant omen in there for this Ajax side ahead of tonight's encounter with the far better-resourced City. On the other hand, this opening could be complete waffle, in which case try the next paragraph instead.
Right then. Fail to win here and City are as good as out of the Champions League at the first stage, again. And serial European flop Roberto Mancini could be as good as out of a job. Win here and City will live on to be outplayed by Real and Dortmund again before being knocked out. No English team is going to win the Champions League this year, are they?
Ajax the Lesser: Vermeer; Van Rhijn, Aldenweireld, Moisander, Blind; Schone, Poulsen, Eriksen; Sana, De Jong, Twitter's Ryan Babel
Subs: Cillessen, Enoh, Sulemani, Boerrigter, Veltman, Dijks, Fischer
City: Hart; Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; Milner, Touré, Barry, Nasri; Aguero, Dzeko
Subs: Pantilimon, Sinclair, Kolarov, Tevez, Nastasic, Balotlli, Evans
Ref: S Moen (Norway)
Mancini explains his selections: "We had a players who spent a lot of energy on Saturday because we played for 70 minutes with one player down so I need fresh players for tonight." He also explains that Pablo Zabaleta is not fit but should be OK for Saturday; and that he reckons his team could be particularly dangerous form set-pieces tonight."
"As an Ajax fan, while I certainly agree that this is indeed Ajax the Lesser, I don't think Ajax thought it was better than it really was (although that is indeed a real Ajax quality)," howls Simon Broekema, who has misunderstood my intricately-compiled analogy. "Rather, the Bosman ruling made it extremely difficult for Ajax to hold on to the talented players they had either grown themselves or scouted successfully. May I remind you that if you could make any team now featuring former Ajax players, that team would feature players like Sneijder, Van der Vaart, Nigel de Jong, Huntelaar, Ibrahimovic and Suarez. In any case, the Lesser Ajax is now a team full of young puppies, and they are unfortunately going to get destroyed tonight." That last bit is what I was driving at: they may have bitten off more than they can chew with this Champions League campaign.
As yet another ad for the latest James Bond movie blazes across my screen, I would like to formally register my disdain for this sort of thing. This ubiquitous marketing campaign for the new film, all designed to convey the notion that this release is some kind of vital cultural event, has put me right off seeing it. As has the fact that the last, ooooh, at least five Bond movies have been increasingly atrocious. Casino Royale was a nadir. Pure dross. And a poker scene shoehorned in to chime with the times but which, alas, made no sense whatsoever.
Anyway, speaking of vital cultural events, we've just had the Champions League theme. Always makes the hairs on the palms of my hands stand up.
1 min: City kick off, and within second hoof the ball long towards Dzeko. A sign of things to come? Ajax deal with it easily.
3 min: Ajax are endeavouring to play their usual brand of slick and expansive football but it's all a bit patchy so far, and City haven't shown much either. Indeed, they have had little of the ball. In other news, here's a statement from Rio and Anton Ferdinand about matters you may have heard of.
5 min: Ajax are looking the more coherent. A nice one-two twixt Babel and De Jong concludes with the latter curling a shot well over the bar from 20 yards.
7 min: Ajax give the ball away in midfield, granting City a chance to come forward for the first time in the game. Do they try to build a meaningful attack? No, Dzeko tries to smash the ball into the net from 35 yards. And fails miserably, his feeble effort trickling harmlessly wide. "You are lucky, Paul: we have incessant ads for who will make the best president, senator, congressman, dog catcher, floor sweeper et al," groans Geoff Ashworth, who presumably lives in Gambia.
10 min: Lovely effort! Again City were guilty of being too meek as Ajax played their way skilfully through them. They worked it quickly to Schone at the edge of the City box and the Dane fed it back to Eriksen, who cracked a vicious volley inches wide from 20 yards. Hart wouldn't have got to that.
12 min: The Champions League is all about clashes between the planet's biggest stars. So I should tell you that the big Christian Poulsen-Gareth Barry duel has been pretty even so far.
14 min: City build a threatening more for the first time, with Aguero heavily involved. After his team zip the ball about with more speed and purpose than they had previously summoned, the Argentinian tried to skedaddle his way into the box ... and he would have gotten away with it too, if it not for some excellent meddling by Alderweireld at the edge of the box.
16 min: Here's a worry: Yaya Touré is down injured. The replay does not reveal anything particularly damaging in the challenge by Blind so Touré may be able to continue. "When I hear the injured players left behind are mostly the new ones, am I the only City fan who feels relieved they're not there and Mancini's got less choice about sticking with what's worked in the past?" barks Paul Ruffley. City sure done botched their summer recruitment.
18 min: This Ajax may be The Lesser compared to their Great forefathers, but they're currently a good deal better than City, for whom, at least, Touré has just returned to the pitch after getting his ankle strapped.
20 min: As Ajax continue to circulate the ball nicely around a desperately passive City side, Gary Neville is asked by fellow Sky commentator about his memories of playing against Ryan Babel. "I remember that whenever the ball came to his feet he seemed to be having an argument with it." Gary Neville, a prince among pundits!
21 min: Eriksen, playing as a false nine, is becoming ever more influential and executing some delicious moves. He just intigated another flowing Ajax attack before arriving at the end of it to flummox Barry before firing just wide from 20 yards.
GOAL! Ajax 0-1 City (Nasri 22') City score with a splendid counter-attack, their first of the game! Richards began it with an excellent pass to Milner, who slid it wide to Nasri, who, having charged in unmarked from the left, struck it first time past the keeper and into the corner of the goal form 17 yards. A classic sucker punch.
24 min: The match has quickly reverted to its pre-City goal pattern, with Ajax dominating play but showing little hint of a cutting edge. " Come on Paul, I'm no Alan Partridge-level Bond devotee but, surely, Casino Royale -with a proper, gritty actor at its heart - was better than prety much all Brosnan Bonds!" fumes Ryan Dunne. No! There was something about Brosnan that made it clear he knew how preposterous the Bond wheeze was. Not nearly as much as the brilliant Roger Moore, who always looked like he was trying to suppress a laugh and never looked like he could really beat anyone up, let alone a villain hellbent on global destruction. Daniel Craig seems to take it too seriously.
26 min: Ajax look quite ragged at the back when City do go at them. A routine move down the right suddenly results in Richards cantering into the box with a free shot on goal. He blems it hard but straight the keeper, who bats it away.
29 min: Nasri over-hits an intended pass to Aguero. If he'd got it right, the striker would have been in for number two.
32 min: De Jong sweeps a fine cross-field ball to Van Rhijn, who has got in down the right behind Clichy. But then he loses the head and sends a curler over the bar when a pass to a well-placed team-mate would have been a wiser option. "Kolarov must wonder what he has to do to get a start over Clichy (who has been poor so far this season), especially after his masterful display against Sunderland," parps Daniel Field. "I wouldn't be surprised to see him heading back to Italy soon." Who would match his wages?
35 min: City rumble forward again after absorbing lots of impotent Ajax possession. Milner finds Nasri in space on the left again but Van Rhijn gets across quickly to block the Frenchman's attempted cross-shot.
37 min: Ajax eschew an opportunity to send a cross into the box and instead take a short freekick from 30 yards. And then Schone dinks the ball straight into Hart's hands. Elsewhere in this group, Dortmund have just taken the lead against Madrid. Probably not what City want.
39 min: Schone has a whack from 25 yards. Into a canal it goes. Meanwhile, Ronaldo has just equalised for Madrid against Dortmund. "The trouble with Bond movies is that they cannot make up their mind if they are serious films or not," sermonises Simon McMahon. "Bond as depicted in the Fleming novels is a hard, unsympathetic character, whereas Bond on screen, and Daniel Craig in particular, is caught between portraying a serious role whilst having to put up with the inevitable one-liners and product placement. Connery remains the original and best, however."
43 min: Ajax continue to enjoy the majority of possession but have yet to look truly dangerous. "Now, I've not bothered sitting through a Bond film since the one with the evil media mogul on a ship, but I'm pretty sure I would expect a poker scene in a film with Casino in the title," barfs Matt Dony. "Wouldn't it have been odder to not have any gambling in it?" Yes, but the scene itself made no sense, as in the dynamics of the game were wrong.
GOAL! Ajax 1-1 City (De Jong 45') Did I say impotent Ajax attack? Not that time! Van Rhijn fired a cross to the edge of the area, where De Jong arrived at speed to batter a low shot into the net. Hart barely moved.
Half-time: Ajax did not look capable of cutting City for most of that half but the moral of their fine equaliser is that if you let a side play around you for long enough, they will eventually punish you. City need to be more assertive in the second half; but Manicni will probably continue to try absorbing Ajax's pressure and strike on the counter-attack. It may work. But being bolder is more likely to bring joy here, in my opinion.
Bond blather: "What English footballer could play James Bond?" wodners Justin Kavanagh. "There aren't many suave enough: Bobby Moore in his pomp maybe? Steve Gerrard's too scouse. David Beckham is too Hollywood. Gary Neville might be wry enough, but that high-pitched orgasmic reaction to the Torres goal might turn off women fans of Bond. The villain of course would have to be a Johnnie Foreigner with schemes of world domination, maybe a Johan Cruyff, pontificating on the state of the global game from his Barcelona lair." Ray Wilkins or Micah Richards would get my vote.
Analysis: "City brought this on themselves," blasts Michiel Jongsma. "Leaving their left back position completely exposed and no urge trying to kill off the game after that first goal... I don't know what they're doing. Ajax have been fragile mentally all season, drawing five games from nine in the league, throwing away two goal leads and stuff. If City won't take all three points, they have only themselves to blame."
46 min: That's more like it from City! RIght from the resumption they tear forward, Nasri threading a pass through to Aguero. A fine tackle by Moisander thwarted his first shot and then the Argentinian clipped a cross into the centre but Ajax scrambled it away again.
48 min: Pleasingly, there is a higher pace to proceedings in this second half. Looks like Manci0ni has given his troops what for. Proper order. But will they sustain it? "Danny Murphy would be a perfect Bond," trumpets Matt Dony. "He would be sent by M (Karren Brady) to nullify the threat caused by Platini's evil schemes to wipe out the classic English footballing traditions of getting clubs into insanely deep debt and tackling like psychopaths. Along the way, Danielle Lloyd would try and catch his eye, then try to kill him, but one of Q's gadgets ( Joseph Barton) would see her off."
50 min: City enjoy their longest unbroken spell of possession of the match. It ends when Nasri swipes the ball down the left for Dzeko to chase; the Bosnia gets there and fires in a decent cross that Barry nods wide from eight yards.
51 min: Hats claims a corner with authority. Moments later City are down the other end threatening again, with even Touré getting involved around the opposing box, which he had singularly failed to do in the first half. City have certainly improved in this period.
53 min: Nasri escapes a booking despite a late tackle on Van Rhijn. So does Milner moments later (for a foul on Eriksen). In other news, my inbox is creaking under the volume of emails demanding that Scott Parker be hired to play Bond with immediate effect.
GOAL! Ajax 2-1 City (Moisander 56') This is shoddy from City! Concding the corner in the first place was slack but their attempt to defend it was worse, as no one was near Moisander as he rose near the front post and directed a powerful downward header into the net!
58 min: Milner attempts to recreate Tom Cleverley's cross for Javier Hernandez's second goal last night but Ajax defend it better than Braga did, as Van Rhijn heads behind for a corner. And that corner is then defended well too. City have got themelves into a right old pickle here. "George Best could have played Bond," bugles Travis Dudfield. "Sure, he was from Northern Ireland but who else had or has that kind of swagger?" If we're broadening it out to include non-Englishmen (and why shouldn't we, given that Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan have played him), then my vote goes to Paolo Di Canio.
60 min: Dzeko penalised for leaping with the goalkeeper in a bid to connect with a loopy Nasri cross. Meanwhile, the Amsterdam Arena is rocking. "If City fail to win this game (and thereby seriously endanger their chances of getting out of this group) because they, in stereotypical Italian fashion, lounged back on a designer divan on the edge of their own box after going 1-0 up with their first shot on target in the game, then Mancini's gonna seriously cop it," declares SB Tang, who's not wrong.
City substitution: Looks like Mancini is going to switch to a back three: off comes Lescott, on comes Kolarov. Meanwhile, Tevez and Balotelli remains on the bench. Clichy is not looking best pleased about this defensive realignment and, it must be said, it hasn't worked very well previously this season.
65 min: That's a delicious cross from the left from Kolarov. Milner throws himself at it but can't keeper his header down. "For an English James Bond, look no further than Teddy Sheringham," blurts Tobin Druce, who has a point.
67 min: Now Ajax are sitting back, allowing City the ball around mid-way ... until Richards gives it away to Babel, who hurtles forward. Kompany gets back to tidy things up.
GOAL! Ajax 3-1 City (Eriksen 68') City are in serious trouble! Barry ceded possession deep inside City territory and Sana helped the ball on to Eriksen, who shot from 20 yards takes a treacherous deflection off Clichy and wrongfoots Hart.
70 min: The switch to three at the back has made a rabble of City, who nearly concede a fourth. Hart saves them, surging off his line to charge down a Sana shot after City were cut apart by a quick one-two. Moments later a long ball from the back flies over Ajax heads and into the path of Dzeko. It's Vermeer's turns to pull off a fine save.
City substitution: Tevez on, Barry off.
72 min: Suddenly this game is wackily open! Dzeko twists his way into the box at one hand, beats the keeper but finds himself at too acute an angle to score so manoeuvres himself to a more conducive position, enabling Vermeer to recover and make another crucial block. Then Ajax break down the other end and Babel's low shot from the left is held by Hart.
Ajax switch: Sana off, Enoh on. Ajax are trying to shore up this lead.
74 min: Kolarov bnooked for an immoral challenge on Schone.
76 min: Nasri takes the ball down with a beautiful touch inside the Ajaax box but then falls over under a challenge from Moisander. Nothing doing, says the ref. Meanwhile, Mancini appears to have rejigged his defence again as his team switch to a Hail Mary formation. Meanwhile, Simon McMahon is back with a suggestion for a Bond-sinspired post-match interview. "If it stays like this I'm hoping that Mancini's post match interview goes something like this: Mancini - 'Do you expect me to talk?'. Interviewer - 'No, Mr Mancini, I expect you to cry.'
78 min: Balotelli is now on the pitch, in place of Milner. "Two things," booms HT. "Surely Berba's your Bond? Also, a propos foreigners, a bit disappointed with SB Tang's tasteless Italian bashing, has he forgotten Napoli or Juve against Chelsea, to name recent examples?" Why do you think SB Tang is a foreigner?
81 min: Freekick to City close to the corner flag on the right. Kolarov clatters it towards the near post. Vermeer punches it clear and Schone tonks it further away. It's not looking good for City.
83 min: City dink the ball around their own half for a while, looking vainly for options. None occur to them, so Nasri lofts it long into the box. Something nearly comes of it as Dzeko nods it down to Aguero, who tries to wriggle his way into a shooting position but is eventually crowded out.
85 min: Mancini's tinkering has left City light in midfield so the defenders are just hitting it long. Dzeko is is doing his best to turn punts into passes but it's not very productive so far.
86 min: Aguero wins the ball just outside the Ajax bonx and slams a shot just over. "Man City - the George Lazenby of Group D?" chuckles Simon McMahon, who's in a rich vein of form.
87 min: Dzeko meets Kolarvo's corner. Vermeer's saves Dzeko's header.
Ajax substitution: Boerrigter on, Schone off.
89 min: Dezko does well to take down another long ball, then feeds Tevez, who forces another corner. Ajax deal with it competently.
90 min: City have four minutes to save their Champions League campaign and redeem themselves.
90+1 min: Kolarov bangs a 25-yard freekick straight into the wall. "Even Steve McClaren can conquer Dutch teams,' tweets Will Unwin.
Full-time: The sky has fallen in on City. The most expensively-assembled team of all time are bottom of their Champions League group and tonight were punished for a passive, disjointed and at times feckless performance. They took the lead against the run of play and then seemed to the think they had already done enough. After conceding an equaliser on the stroke of half-time, they played the first 10 minutes of the second half with pace and purpose. And then relented again. And then conceded two sloppy goals. All in all, this was no why for a team with their resources to perform against valiant but eminently beatable opponents. City may need to win all three of their remaining games to save themselves: play like they have done in their first three (or at least two of their first three) and they probably won't win any.