Manchester City's Aleksandar Kolarov rescues a point against Napoli

Manchester City will know that they have been exposed to the subtle ordeals of the Champions League. Napoli, instead of being worn down, developed more ambition as time passed and took the lead here. This was a heartening sign, for neutrals at least, that the tournament need not slip into the permanent domination of Spain or England.

City's own reflections will have a narrow focus. They took a point because Aleksandar Kolarov snaked a free-kick inside the post in the 75th minute. It is to the team's credit that they had a such an effective set piece in their repertoire. Nonetheless, City, if this fixture is any guide, cannot assume they will be allowed to produce the free-wheeling style of this season's early weeks.

In all likelihood, Roberto Mancini would have suspected that, as a unit, his team do not quite have the knowhow to maintain strict control at home when the opposition are of this calibre. Indeed, Napoli could be a touch disappointed to have lost their lead. The goal itself had, after all, revealed gaucheness in City. Gareth Barry was careless in possession and Christian Maggio surged away with the ball before Edinson Cavani converted the chance after 69 minutes.

Sergio Agüero was soon clipping the bar from a low delivery by Samir Nasri, but the Champions League had become a grave matter for City. Their firm reply at least showed resolve. With all the talk of City's first European Cup match since 1968 there was almost an insinuation that a club of such means would make a spectacular reappearance in the tournament as a matter of course.

It was not quite so simple as all that, even if Mancini's players started as if they could not be checked. Any such assumption was disrespectful to a Serie A side that did not crumple at any moment in this encounter. One of the most vivid moments saw the City centre-half Vincent Kompany flummoxed by Ezequiel Lavezzi, with the Argentinian attacker hitting the bar from distance in the 18th minute.

There was no obvious reason why the hosts should have looked a touch uneasy on occasion. City may lack experience of this competition in modern times, but their squad is crammed with men of achievement. The ability is beyond dispute, but this manager knows that the vivacious football he has gradually introduced of late will not in itself be enough establish the club in Europe.

Napoli almost quaked in some early exchanges, but professionalism saw them through that period and they appeared to enjoy the occasion more than City. That was perhaps to be expected. The home team realise how much expectation they have to bear. City could still have had the lead at half-time. Yaya Touré tore forward in the 34th minute and linked with Agüero before shooting against the bar. Three cautions for Napoli before the interval also indicated their commitment.

In the depths of their hearts, City fans would have envisaged a spectacle to confirm that the club's standards are the equal of the world's best. Those of a more philosophical turn of mind could have argued that the whole point of City's rise has been to play for high stakes and feel the tension, as they certainly did in this match.

The mood was still a positive one in the Etihad Stadium, with no recriminations. The wonder of witnessing a fixture of this sort in the ground left a sense of thankfulness among the supporters. But City were definitely under stress. That is normal for the prominent teams. There might have been an opener for them in the 40th minute, but the goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis reached a Kolarov drive aimed for the corner of the target. Nothing so very terrible had happened to City and the main priority would have been to stay calm and methodical.

The composure of Mancini's players was tried as the match wore on, especially when a deep cross from the left fell to Marek Hamsik and the Slovak's drive needed to be cleared expertly from the goalline by Kompany in the 50th minute. There were several moments when those who have made too much of the relative decline in Serie A had to appreciate the potency these clubs can still find.

It was hardly an occasion for merely appreciating the side that had denied City a win, but this game ought to be valued for its proof that diversity remains in a competition that is supposed to embody the highest standards of football on our continent.

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