Man City 2-2 Ajax

Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini remonstrates with officials at the final whistle

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.

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.

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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.

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