A Kolarov goal from a freekick cancels out Cavani's opener in entertaining game
Hello and welcome to what promises to be a fascinating occasion. Manchester City are back in Europe's showpiece competition for the first time in 43 years - and many are the soothsayers who reckon they'll mark their return by winnign the bloomin' thing (Harry Redknapp, for example, says they are already better than Barcelona). Napoli may not be as formidable as they were when Sergio Aguero's pop-in-law was pulling the strings (then again, he never did anything in the European Cup) but they should still prove worthy first opponents for Roberto Mancini's crew - certainly better than anything his reinvented side have faced so far this season (Spurs had no strikers and Luka Modric in a huff).
There's a school of thought that says that the suspense of wondering whether a team that has splurged half a billion pounds on players in the last couple of years will win the Champions League is about as exciting as waiting to see whether the winner of Pop Idol will get to No1; and then there's another school of thought that says, hey ho, that's the sport we're in so quit complaining and just kick back and enjoy the entertainment as you would at the movies. And City sure have some entertaining players: you can't argue with a front quartet of Aguero, Samir Nasri, Eden Dzeko 2.0 and the most artful player in the Premier League, David Silva.
City: Hart; Zabaleta, Lescott, Kompany, Kolarov; Barry, Y Touré; Nasri, Silva, Aguero; Dzeko
Subs: Pantilimon, Richards, Johnson, Savic, Clichy, Slim Touré, Tevez
Napoli: De Sanctis, Aronica, Maggio, Capagnaro, Cannavaro, Zuniga, Inler, Lavezzi, Gargano, Cavanni, Hamsik.
Subs: Rosati, Fideleff, The Italian Konchesky, Santana, Dzemaili, Fernandez, Pandev
Referee: J Eriksson (Swe)
On one level, manchester United fans are surely hoping their noisy neighbours come a cropper in this tournament. Taking a historical perspective, however, perhaps it is in their interests for City to do well: because almost every City success has been a catalyst for bigger success by United and/or a City collpase. Consider this:
1904: City become the first Manchester side to win a major trophy (the FA Cup) ... and, would you believe, are then found to have broken finanical regulations and are forced to sell 17 of their players: four of them joined United and win titles galore.
1926: City record the biggest win to-date in the Manchester derby, trouncing United 6-1 .... and are then relegated.
1968: City win the English title for the last time ... but everyone forgets about it because United win the European Cup for the first time, beating Benfica, who, funnily enough, they are also playing tonight.
1999: City score twice in injury time to get promoted to the second tier; United score twice in injury time to win the Champions League (OK, that was actually bedfore City's win but still ...)
2011: City win the FA Cup. United win the Premier League for a record 19th time.
1 min: As the game gets under way, let us pay our respects to Napoli manager Walter Mazzarri, who has arrived for the occasion clad in a shiny blue faux-leather suit that wouldn't look out of place in an episode of Starsky & Hutch.
3 min: Silva pings it in to Dzeko, who is immedaitely surrounded by three defenders. The ball pops out to Nasri, who fires off a crisp snapshot that whizzes just past the post from 16 yards.
5 min: Kompany fails to make contact with a croner after finding space at the near post. Meanwhile, Venn Chesterton recalls another incidence of City success being follow by a City slump/United rise. "City beat United 5-1 in 1989 ... then City drop to the third tier, while United dominate the 90s."
7 min: City have hogged possession so far, probing around the box. Napoli are defended well while remaining coiled to spring forward given half an opportunity: they've done so just now, though their momentum fizzled out when Cavani picked the ball up and 35 yards out and decided to have a shot. The result is a souvenir ball for someone in Row X.
9 min: Strong play by Dzeko to colelct he ball on half-way, swivel and lope forward. Inler feels compelled to bring him down, conceding a freekick about 25 yards out, a tad to the right. Silva's weak effort deflects off the wall and earns a corner, which is more than it deserved.
11 min: Napoli's defending from corner has been well ropy so far: they've jsut allowede Dzeko to meet a corner unmolested. The striker couldn't direct his 10-yard header on target but Aguerro arrived at the back post to attempt to poke it into the net, only for De Sanctis to make a courageous block.
13 min: Ooooh! Splendid play by Dzeko. Again he spung away from his markers in the middle and then slipped the ball through to Silva before bounding forward in anticipation of the return ball. Silva duly delivered and then, from an angle slightly wider than he would have liked, Dzeko drives a powerful low shot inches wide.
14 min: Maggio booked for a woerful late tackle on Silva, who was simply too good for him. Nasri will cross from the freekick wide on the left.
15 min: Frantic defending by Napoli to scramble the ball away after Nasri's freekick.
17 min: That's a superb effort! Lavezzi produced an exquisite feint to befuddle Kompany at the edge of the area and then stroked a delicious shot past Hart ... and agaisnt the crossbar! It would have been a delightful goal - instead it's jsut a reminder that Napoli pose a big threat on the break.
19 min: Encouraged by Lavezzi's shot of a moment ago, Napoli exert some sustained pressure. Cavani and Levezzi combine neatly but the ensuing shot is no reprise of Lavezzi's earlier beauty. Wide it flies.
22 min: Zabaleta booked for a foul in the box! Fortunately for City, it was in the Napoli box so no penalty.
25 min: City guilty of excessive intricacy: they had a chance to score there but Arsenaled themselves from a good situation into a bad one.
27 min: City are still having most of the ball but Napoli had steeled themselves and with their diligent pressing they are becoming increasingly difficult to infiltrate. They also remain determined to zop forward when they win the ball back.
30 min: For the second time in two minutes Silva attempts a shot from way out. For the second time in two minuters his effort is blocked by a defender who closed him down rapidly.
31 min: A reckless tackle by Cannavaro on Aguerro earns a yellow card for the Italian and a freekick for City at the left-hand corner of the Napoli box. Nasri takes it short to Kolarov, who scoops the ball into the box. Dzeko gets too far under the ball, sending an innocuous header looping into the keeper's arms.
35 min: Napoli botch a corner, driving it straight to Yay Touré at the edge of the City box. The Ivorian stroms all the way down the other end and threads it through to Aguerro, who puts two defenders on their arses and then rolls back into the path of Touré. His shot fizzes past the keeper ... and comes back off the crossbar!
37 min: Lots of dinky platy by City around the Napoli box but again the visitors' defence proves impenetrable and the move peters out.
40 min: An in-swinging freekick from deep by Kolarov almost finds its way into the far corner but De Sanctis demonstrates fast reflexes to dive to his right and tip it behind for a corner - which Napoli again defend sloppily: they get away with it again but, given how well they are generally defending in open play, a corner, or an unhingeing counter-attack, looks like City's best chance of penetrating.
43 min: Yewt again a napoli player (Aronica) is booked for bringing down Aguerro near the left-hand corner of the box. Nasri steps up to deliver again ... and again he plays it short to Kolarov, but Napoli read that and closed it down quickly. The chance dies. "Hi Paul, I e-mailed you from Venice last night ... tonight I'm in Milan watching Man City v Napoli with a margarita," brags Audrey Anderson. "It's the Grand Tour with footie & cocktails. Excellent stuff!" Is anyone following this from an even swisher setting than Audrey?
Half-time: That was an interesting half. Againt the first decent opponents they've faced this season City have not been able to create anywhere near as many chances as they have made in each Premier League game. At times City have over-elaborated but in general they are not playing badly, it's more that Napoli are defending very well (except from corners) ... although a series of bad challenges means they now have three defenders on yellow cards, which could become a factor in the second half.
Swish setting: "I'm watching the game opposite a disused Ford factory in rusty Wixom, Michigan with only this morning's cold coffee for company," coos Ed Bottomley. "Cocktails in Milan? Sod that."
46 min: We have resumption. And Napoli come out the brighter, Lavezzi looking lively again up front. Meanwhile, how's this for a swisher setting? "I'm following the MBM from my windowless office at work in San Francisco with a coffee and couldn't be more jealous of Audrey," confesses Raymond Putzey. " Would she accept a wedding proposal? I could be on the next plane and we could catch the weekend matches in Florence or summat. An exceptionally bored boy can dream." Are you sure you didn't mean to click here?
48 min: City probing ... Napoli defending ... Silva gets off a shot ... Napoli get in a block. So far the Italians deserve the point they will get if the score remains the same. Meanwhile, although Philippa Booth doesn't disclose here setting, it sounds like she's having a hell of a time. "I've just opened a bottle of wine called 'Val d'Enfer' and whoever picked the name really wasn't kidding..." she gulps.
49 min: Napoli may well get more than a point! There shades of Richard Dunne in Moscow last week as Kompany performed a heroic, barely possible clearance off the line after Zuniga has stood a ball up at the back post and Hamsik rocketed a low volley past Hart!
52 min: More shoddy defending from a corner by Napoli! Happily for them, Lescott's attempt to punish it is equally shoddy as he heads over when unmarked eight yards out.
55 min: After a wee bit of pressure from Napoli, Gargano summons a piddling shot. "This is to Ed Bottomly in rusty Wixom – he is in luxury!" booms John Thompson. "I've been in Milan (actually in Vimercate on the outskirts) and tried to get a cocktail and watch some football. The entire area round the hotel that my Italian colleagues booked for me was a run down, bombed out, mostly deserted industrial area that smelled like its entire product output over the last 50 yrs was based on rendering down festering animal carcasses and mixed with boiled cabbage – I found one bar (which is where the cabbage smell originated) and it's only beer offering was Red Stripe (and yes the glass was dirty). I went back to my hotel room – formica topped surfaces, cigarettes stained candlewick bedspread - and shed many a manly tear for dear old Glasgow!"
56 min: A Dzeko snapshot from 25 yards fizzes into De Sanctis's midriff.
57 min: A blow for Napoli as the impressive Lavezzi limps off to be replaced by ... someone. I'll tell you who when I figure it out.
59 min: The chap who replaced Lavezzi is, it can now be revealed, Dzemaili. City could do with making a chance themselves, as they're starting to run out of ideas. Time for Tevez, I'm saying. "Anywhere is swish if you have the right food and drink," slurps Roderick Stewart. "Life in the Caribbean has only been bearable since I discovered they exported Tunnock's Caramel Wafers to Trinidad.
62 min: Napoli win a corner after a period of good probing and pressure. Hamsik takes it short to Zuniga and then gets it back and smashes the ball across the face of goal. No one is on hand to turn it in.
64 min: Pointless shot from a freekick by Dzemaili. "I'm feeling mighty swish in the flat in Moscow by the Moskva sipping kefir (milky yogurt type drink)," Martin Parker tires to convince himself. "I hope that City swish one in the net soon. Can't take much more of this."
66 min: Nothing happening here for City. Indeed, they again came close to falling as Napoli launched an incisive counter-attack. Zabalata had to hurl himself at a Hamsik shot from 14 yards to divert it over.
GOAL! City 0-1 Napoli (69') That has been coming! City lost possesion aaround half-way. Maggio robbed it and strode forward before slipping the ball through to Cavani, who slotted it between Hart's legs and into the net from 12 yards. The perfect counter-attack.
70 min: I said earlier in the preamble that this was City's first proper test of the season (not counting the Community Shield because, although they were outplayed, they weren not at full strength) and they're not passing it at the moment: after beginning brightly they have lost fluency and appeared short of ideas. Napoli have taken a degree of control in midfield and City are struggling to feed their would-be dangermen up front.
72 min: Aguerro hits the bar! It came from a fast attack down the left by Nasri, who crossed hard and low. The Argentinian got the jump ion the defender but his flick rebounded out off the bar! "Enjoying the game from the dodgy part of Norwich," groans George Ankers. "The only swish in sight is Gokhan Inler. (Swish? Swiss?) ... I'll get my coat.)"
GOAL! City 1-1 Napoli (Kolarov 74') It always looked likely that if City scored it would come from a set-piece but you can't faault the defending here: it was just a splendid shot from a freekick by Kolarov. From 25 yards, to the right, he curled it into the near post.
75 min: Kolarov's reward for scoring City's first ever Champions league goal is to be immediately substituted: on comes Clichy in his place. Nasri, who influence has waned in the second half, is also replaced: with Adam Johnson coming in. Meanwhile, Sky's touchline reporter reveals that Kolarov has been playing despite breaking his nose in the first half. Another soft Johnny Foreigner, then ....
78 min: That should have been the lead for City! Johnson made an instant impact, scuttling down the right and then supplying Dzeko, who spun and shot from eight yards ... it goes wide, much to the annoyance of Silva, who was waiting for a simple lay-off that would have given him a free shot into an almost empty goal.
80 min: Johnson has a go from 20 yards. Comfortable save by De Sanctis. Meanwhile, Tevez is warming up, though Sky's Ray Wilkins says he's doing so in half-hearted fashion. Elsewhere, Maarten Kranendonk is swishing it up: "Drinking Baobab juice in a Bantaba in Kololi, The Gambia. It surely doesn't get any swishier than that? And even better, ManU are being ripped to pieces by Benfica, what a glorious evening!"
81 min: Tevez is on. Dzeko is off.
83 min: After Touré bangs a shot high and wide, Napoli make a change: Cavani off, Pandev on.
85 min: Slick interplay twixt Aguerro and Clichy down the left, culminating, alas, in a wayward long shot from the Argentinian.
87 min: Much like in the Community Shield, Kompany goofs inexplicably to hand a change to the opposition in the closing minutes: this time Hart hurtles out of his box to tackle Pandev after the Belgian had underhit a backpass.
88 min: Napoli change: Hamsik off, Santana on. It is worth pointing out, as @paolo_bandini has just tweeted, that there is no guarantee that Pandev would have scored even if Hart had not intervened a moment ago: get a load of this miss from the weekend.
90+2 min: Both sides going for it. Intensity and tempo high. Pleasing stuff all round. Tevez wins a corner for City: could this be their last chance to grab a winner? Also, you want swish? "I'm been following the match on MBM from the belly of a tramp steamer, trying to kill time," warbles William Marzouk. "Our only drink is quinine fortified tonic water. We've been anchored in harbor for two days, waiting on a consignment of bauxite. It's hot as balls and we're all getting rather fed up with each other. Captain hasn't granted us shore leaves cause last time he did half the crew came back with chlamydia. The seaman's life is a hard one, but better than sitting behind a desk, I reckon."
90+3 min: The corner yields nowt.
Full-time: That was a fun match. City found it much tougher than any of their Premier League games so far but that was mainly due to the quality of Napoli, who defended dynamically and attacked with much menace. City were very slick in patches, especially early on, and full of good intent but at times they were found wanting for ideas and defensively they looked vulnerable.