Joe Hart saves Man City to set up Real Madrid showdown
Point blank stop from Pepe keeps City in the tie as semi-final first leg in Manchester ends goalless
Manchester City 0 Real Madrid 0.
There were no goals but one brilliant save from Joe Hart ensured that Manchester City travel to the Bernabeu next Wednesday full of confidence that they can progress to the final of the Champions League.
The first leg of their semi-final against Real Madrid at the Etihad failed to live up the pre-match hype with neither side at their fluid best, and clear-cut chances at a premium.
The best opportunity of the evening fell to Pepe eight minutes from time, when the ball landed at the feet of the Real defender from a corner. The Portuguese player made a sweet connection with his left foot from point-blank range but Hart had already advanced a yard off his line, spreading himself as Pepe took aim. To the relief of the City fans - and the disbelief of Pepe, who held his head in his hands - the ball cannoned into Hart and the danger passed.
It was a brilliant reflex save, as Pepe later acknowledged. "I had a chance myself, but their keeper was very quick," he said. "I could just hit the ball goalwards, and he made a good save."
It wasn't the only save of the night from Hart who, despite the absence of the injured Cristiano Ronaldo and the withdrawal of Karim Benzema at half-time with a knee problem, was the busier of the two goalkeepers. Casemiro and Sergio Ramos both saw their headed efforts saved by the Englishman while Jese Rodriguez hit the crossbar with a second-half header.
Hart wasn't the only City player who deserved praise. The centre-back pairing of Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi did a good job in blunting the Real attack - except at set pieces - and Otamendi in particular combined well with left-back Gael Clichy to diminish the threat of Gareth Bale out wide.
"It was a cagey match at the start... but it opened up in the second half and we were unlucky not to get a few penalties," said Bale, who had a claim for a spot-kick turned down in the second-half when he was clashed with Otamendi. "It was definitely a foul but what can you do?" added the Welshman. "The referee didn't seem to give us a lot."
City came close to nicking a goal at the death with Kevin de Bruyne's swinging free-kick in stoppage time requiring a sharp save from Real keeper Keylor Navas . But neither side deserved the victory, and the result makes the second leg all the more intriguing.
"We've set it up for a good old-fashioned rumble at the Bernabeu," declared Hart. "We're not disappointed with the result. We have a brilliant squad who are coming to fruition. Wednesday night is a big game, simple as... We're going to be ready for it."