Manchester: As Real Madrid marked Jose Mourinho's 100th Champions League game by reaching the knockout phase with a game to spare, Manchester City again fell short competing with Europe's elite. A 1-1 draw with the Spanish champions on Wednesday ended City's campaign in the group stage for the second successive season despite more than $1 billion spent on the team in the last four years.
"With the array of players at their disposal, it is amazing they have been eliminated at the group stage two years running," Mourinho said. "If it was Madrid, I think the press wouldn't let me return to Madrid."
But City manager Roberto Mancini seems sure that the English Premier League champions' Abu Dhabi owners won't be judging him on his European record. "If we think that we can win the Champions League after two years, we are crazy," Mancini said. "We need to improve as a team, probably we did some mistakes."
After just 10 minutes, in fact, on Wednesday, Karim Benzema exploited sloppy defending to put the nine-time champions ahead against the Champions League novices. Only a win would have kept City's faint hopes of advancing alive, and a lifeline came in the the 74th minute when Sergio Aguero equalised from the penalty spot after Madrid defender Alvaro Arbeloa was sent off. But Madrid held on for the draw to qualify behind leader Borussia Dortmund.
"The only two times I finished second in the group, I won the Champions League," said Mourinho, who won the competition with FC Porto and Inter Milan. "It means something [to finish top], but my experience is, it doesn't mean so much."
City remained stranded at the bottom with just three points from five matches. "We've surprised ourselves in a very, very bad way in this competition," City goalkeeper Joe Hart said.
City's start belied the magnitude of the match for a team which is looking to build on its first English title in 44 years with success in Europe. The Premier League leaders were made to pay after just 10 minutes when Angel Di Maria crossed from the right and Maicon failed to stop Benzema casually turning the ball in at the near post.
"The first chance they had, they scored," Mancini said. "We made a mistake. We were five against two in the box. When you concede like this, it is always difficult."
City were being tormented by Cristiano Ronaldo on his first appearance in the northern English city since leaving Manchester United three years ago. The Portugal winger evaded Maicon and Pablo Zabaleta on the left flank before setting up Sami Khedira, who struck wide.
Ronaldo went close himself when he broke forward and chipped the ball over Hart after he raced out to the edge of the area, but Zabaleta charged back and hacked the ball off the line.
It took around 20 minutes for City to put Madrid under any meaningful pressure, and when they did, it took a fine save by Iker Casillas, who tipped over Aguero's shot.
There was also a break forward from Maicon, who had neglected his defensive duties but nearly made amends, playing a one-two with Aguero before striking wide. City were also more assertive after the break, causing more trouble for the visitors.
Aguero looked most likely to grab the equaliser, with Maicon presenting him with a chance early in the second half that went wide. City's attacking options were bolstered when Carlos Tevez replaced Samir Nasri on the hour. But it was Aguero who came close again four minutes later.
After connecting with Maicon's cross from the right at the far post the net was at his mercy but Casillas managed to thwart the striker. In the end, Aguero scored from the spot after Arbeloa was shown a second yellow card for bringing him down in the penalty area, giving City a lifeline.
But only a win would keep City alive in the Champions League, and the winner never came.
"But we didn't lose tonight; we lost in the first few games," Mancini said. "In Madrid we were 2-1 up with five minutes to go [and lost 3-2]. In Amsterdam we were 1-0 ahead and missed some chances to close the game [and lost 3-1]. I am disappointed like everyone here. We did some mistakes ... now it's finished, we can do nothing."