By Phil McNultyBBC Sport chief football writer at Etihad Stadium
Manchester City's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League knockout phase took another blow as they were held to a draw by Ajax at Etihad Stadium.
Roberto Mancini's side knew victory was imperative after gaining only one point from their first three games in Group D - but their hopes were sabotaged by the concession of two early goals.
Ajax captain Siem de Jong took advantage of slack marking to put Ajax two up inside 17 minutes to leave the Premier League champions facing an exit at the group stage for the second successive season.
Yaya Toure gave City hope with a goal before half-time and Sergio Aguero set up a frantic finish with 17 minutes left as the Etihad finally came to life.
History not on City's side
Only two clubs have managed to qualify for the next round of the Champions League after collecting a maximum of two points from their first four group matches: Lokomotiv Moscow in 2002-03 and FC Porto in 2004-05
Statistic courtesy of Infostrada Sports
Aguero thought he had capped City's comeback only to see a goal contentiously ruled out for offside three minutes from time, and the game ended with substitute Mario Balotelli complaining bitterly that his shirt had been pulled by Ajax defender Ricardo van Rhijn in the game's final attack.
Mancini marched on to the pitch at the final whistle to remonstrate with the officials over the disallowed goal, but he could not alter an outcome that does little for his side's chances of progress.
City's point still leaves them with an outside chance of qualification, but they are heavily reliant on other results even if they take maximum points themselves.
Mancini's men knew this was a defining moment of a faltering campaign. Anything less than victory would effectively snuff out their hopes of moving through to the last 16.
And in a woeful opening phase they conceded two cheap goals from corners to hand the initiative instantly to Ajax.
Mancini criticises 'poor' officials
City's defenders failed to react when Nilas Moisander headed a corner into the six-yard box, leaving the grateful De Jong to turn an angled finish high past Joe Hart.
It was a lead Ajax doubled after 17 minutes when De Jong once again escaped the attentions of Gareth Barry at the near post to head comfortably past Hart, a moment that left Mancini expressing his obvious disgust in his technical area.
Ajax's vociferous followers celebrated with a chorus of "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" - and City's life got a little brighter five minutes later when Yaya Toure scored with a tumbling volley eight yards out.
Despite this lift, however, the atmosphere remained subdued and the interval came with home players and supporters in desperate need of inspiration.
Mancini decided it would come in the shape of Balotelli, who was sent on at the start of the second half in place of Javi Garcia.
City, predictably, applied concerted pressure following Balotelli's introduction but Hart was the first keeper to be tested as he showed fine athleticism to beat away De Jong's 25-yard effort. The Ajax captain also made the keeper work with a free-kick that Hart had to be alert to claw away.
It kept the hosts in the hunt and they took advantage to draw level with 16 minutes left. Aguero had been struggling to keep his feet all night but his touch and balance returned as he raced on to Balotelli's free-kick to score low past Kenneth Vermeer.
The Ajax goalkeeper had been well protected by his defenders but he had to save brilliantly from Balotelli's header as City pushed for the winner that could have have made such a difference to their prospects.
Aguero thought he had snatched the crucial goal with a sharp finish from Aleksandar Kolarov's cross but the celebrations were stopped by the linesman's flag, with replays suggesting City had been hard done by in what was a marginal decision.
City were furious once more as they claimed Balotelli had his shirt tugged by Van Rhijn in the dying moments but Danish referee Peter Rasmussen ignored their claims and immediately blew the final whistle.
The Premier League champions will now need to win their final two games at home to Real Madrid and away to Borussia Dortmund, a tall order in the context of their campaign so far, and also hope Dortmund beat Ajax and that the Dutch side get at least a draw against Madrid at the Bernabeu.
90:00+4:03 The final whistle is blown by the referee.
90:00+3:10 Niklas Moisander challenges Edin Dzeko unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick taken by Joe Hart.
90:00+2:27 Substitution Tobias Sana on for Derk Boerrigter.
90:00+1:22 Shot by Christian Eriksen. Joe Hart makes a save. Corner taken by Christian Eriksen. Viktor Fischer takes a shot.
90:00+0:17 Shot from close range by Viktor Fischer misses to the left of the goal.
89:12 Vincent Kompany fouled by Viktor Fischer, the ref awards a free kick. Samir Nasri takes the direct free kick.
88:29 The referee blows for offside. Free kick taken by Niklas Moisander.
87:32 The assistant referee signals for offside against Aleksandar Kolarov. Kenneth Vermeer takes the free kick.
86:38 Substitution Viktor Fischer comes on in place of Christian Poulsen.
86:38 Corner taken by Aleksandar Kolarov from the left by-line.
84:40 Yaya Toure restarts play with the free kick.
84:40 Substitution Aleksandar Kolarov joins the action as a substitute, replacing Gareth Barry.
84:40 Booking Booking for Christian Poulsen for unsporting behaviour.
83:43 Corner taken right-footed by Christian Eriksen, Headed effort from inside the penalty area by Siem De Jong misses to the right
of the target. Christian Poulsen challenges Mario Balotelli unfairly and gives away a free kick.
83:12 Foul by Vincent Kompany on Derk Boerrigter, free kick awarded. Free kick taken by Toby Alderweireld.
82:27 Unfair challenge on Sergio Aguero by Christian Poulsen results in a free kick. Samir Nasri crosses the ball from the free
kick right-footed from right wing, Daley Blind manages to make a clearance.
79:11 Edin Dzeko produces a left-footed shot from long distance which goes wide right of the goal. Ryan Babel fouled by Pablo Zabaleta,
the ref awards a free kick. Niklas Moisander takes the direct free kick.
78:00 Free kick awarded for a foul by Ryan Babel on Pablo Zabaleta. Samir Nasri sends in a cross, Mario Balotelli takes a shot.
Save by Kenneth Vermeer.
76:48 Substitution Eyong Enoh is brought on as a substitute for Lasse Schone.
76:48 The referee blows for offside against Sergio Aguero.
75:28 Pablo Zabaleta is caught offside. Indirect free kick taken by Kenneth Vermeer.
74:43 The referee penalises Mario Balotelli for handball. Kenneth Vermeer takes the direct free kick.
73:21 The assist for the goal came from Mario Balotelli.
73:21 GOAL - Sergio Aguero:Man City 2 - 2 Ajax Sergio Aguero finds the net with a goal from just inside the area to the bottom left corner of the goal. Man City 2-2 Ajax.
72:42 Pablo Zabaleta gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Ryan Babel. Free kick taken by Daley Blind.
72:23 Edin Dzeko is flagged offside by the assistant referee. Niklas Moisander restarts play with the free kick.
69:44 Yaya Toure gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Lasse Schone. Siem De Jong produces a strike on goal direct from
the free kick, Joe Hart makes a save.
68:41 Foul by Pablo Zabaleta on Christian Eriksen, free kick awarded. Free kick taken by Christian Eriksen.
67:51 Ricardo Van Rhijn produces a cross. Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Christian Eriksen from the left by-line, save
by Joe Hart.
66:14 Edin Dzeko is penalised for handball and concedes a free kick. Toby Alderweireld takes the direct free kick.
65:18 Substitution Edin Dzeko is brought on as a substitute for Carlos Tevez.
65:18 Gareth Barry produces a right-footed shot from just outside the box that misses to the right of the goal.
63:04 Outswinging corner taken by Christian Eriksen. Free kick awarded for a foul by Ryan Babel on Carlos Tevez. Direct free kick
taken by Carlos Tevez.
62:28 Shot from just outside the box by Christian Eriksen misses to the right of the goal.
56:22 Shot by Siem De Jong. Save by Joe Hart.
55:40 The ball is crossed by Carlos Tevez, Toby Alderweireld makes a clearance.
54:52 Yaya Toure produces a cross, clearance by Ricardo Van Rhijn. Corner taken right-footed by Carlos Tevez, Christian Poulsen
makes a clearance.
52:11 Carlos Tevez fouled by Siem De Jong, the ref awards a free kick. Strike comes in from Yaya Toure from the free kick. The offside
flag is raised against Sergio Aguero. Direct free kick taken by Kenneth Vermeer.
49:34 Carlos Tevez fouled by Christian Eriksen, the ref awards a free kick. Gareth Barry sends in a cross, Shot from just outside
the area by Matija Nastasic goes over the bar.
48:04 Mario Balotelli concedes a free kick for a foul on Lasse Schone. Ricardo Van Rhijn takes the free kick.
45:51 Gareth Barry crosses the ball in from the free kick, save made by Kenneth Vermeer.
45:51 Booking Daley Blind goes into the referee's book.
45:39 Free kick awarded for a foul by Daley Blind on Samir Nasri.
45:01 The match restarts for the second half.
45:01 Substitution Mario Balotelli joins the action as a substitute, replacing Francisco Javi Garcia.
45:00+0:29 The first half comes to an end.
44:50 Inswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Carlos Tevez.
39:01 Yaya Toure takes a shot. Kenneth Vermeer makes a save.
37:25 Derk Boerrigter produces a left-footed shot from just outside the penalty box that goes wide left of the target.
36:43 The ball is swung over by Christian Eriksen.
34:19 The offside flag is raised against Samir Nasri. Christian Poulsen restarts play with the free kick.
33:12 Shot from long range by Siem De Jong goes wide of the left-hand post.
31:09 Ryan Babel is ruled offside. Joe Hart takes the free kick.
30:01 Pablo Zabaleta takes a shot. Save made by Kenneth Vermeer. The referee blows for offside. Free kick taken by Niklas Moisander.
29:28 The ball is swung over by Gael Clichy, Toby Alderweireld manages to make a clearance.
Correction - 27:08 Ricardo Van Rhijn fouled by Gareth Barry, the ref awards a free kick. Kenneth Vermeer takes the free kick.
27:08 Sergio Aguero gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Ricardo Van Rhijn. Kenneth Vermeer restarts play with the
21:45 The assist for the goal came from Samir Nasri.
21:45 GOAL - Yaya Toure :Man City 1 - 2 Ajax Yaya Toure fires in a goal from inside the area to the top left corner of the goal. Man City 1-2 Ajax.
20:59 Gael Clichy is ruled offside. Toby Alderweireld restarts play with the free kick.
18:30 Carlos Tevez delivers the ball. Corner taken left-footed by Gareth Barry from the right by-line, clearance by Niklas Moisander.
16:27 Assist by Christian Eriksen.
16:27 GOAL - Siem De Jong:Man City 0 - 2 Ajax Siem De Jong finds the back of the net with a headed goal from inside the penalty box. Man City 0-2 Ajax.
15:57 Corner taken right-footed by Christian Eriksen from the left by-line,
13:21 Gareth Barry challenges Lasse Schone unfairly and gives away a free kick. Christian Poulsen restarts play with the free kick.
12:21 Derk Boerrigter challenges Gael Clichy unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick taken by Samir Nasri.
10:39 Short corner taken by Carlos Tevez from the right by-line. Gareth Barry takes a shot. Inswinging corner taken by Gareth Barry,
Matija Nastasic takes a shot. Kenneth Vermeer makes a save.
Correction - 9:02 Assist by Niklas Moisander.
9:02 Niklas Moisander provided the assist for the goal.
9:02 GOAL - Siem De Jong:Man City 0 - 1 Ajax Siem De Jong finds the net with a goal from close in to the top right corner of the goal. Man City 0-1 Ajax.
Correction - 8:29 Corner taken by Christian Eriksen from the right by-line,
8:29 Outswinging corner taken right-footed by Christian Eriksen from the right by-line,
6:59 Pablo Zabaleta has an effort at goal from deep inside the area missing to the right of the goal. Carlos Tevez produces a cross,
clearance made by Ricardo Van Rhijn.
6:31 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Gareth Barry by Christian Poulsen. Free kick taken by Samir Nasri.
5:17 Sergio Aguero takes a shot. Corner taken left-footed by Gareth Barry, save by Kenneth Vermeer.
3:02 Christian Eriksen takes a shot. Blocked by Vincent Kompany.
0:00 The referee starts the match.
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