Never mind the fact that I’ve been subjecting myself to the pain of following Manchester City for nigh on 12 years – Despite what I and every other City fan have been singing at the top of our lungs all season, I always knew deep down I wasn’t coming to Istanbul at the end of May.
(Not only do I live in the United States, but I’m also a college student and one who is studying to become a schoolteacher. In other words, I live far, far away from the club I love, I’m skint enough that I can’t afford flights to Turkey on a month and a half’s notice and will likely continue to be so for my entire professional career. So there you go, that’s my excuse.)
A lot of City fans probably began to feel that way after their team survived a penalty shootout against Aalborg in the UEFA Cup’s round of 16 – their second win on penalties in the competition this season, both coming against Danish opponents – and they were hardly rewarded for advancing further than any City team has in Europe in the last 30 years.
When Blues supporters braced themselves for whatever fate was about to dealt to them at the last-ever UEFA Cup draw last month in Switzerland, they received pretty much the worst news possible. A European cup final was still possible, but they would have to get through essentially two two-legged cup finals against Hamburg and Werder Bremen, perhaps the two most dangerous teams remaining in the competition, if they were going to the actual final on May 20.
Things were looking good early at the HSH Nordbank Arena on Thursday, though, when Stephen Ireland’s back-and-forth with Robinho resulted in the Irishman giving the Blues a 1-0 lead and a vital away goal in the first minute of the match. Unfortunately, Hamburg would then overturn the early deficit to take a 3-1 aggregate lead into the second leg in Manchester next week after having scored three unanswered, and anyone who watched the game would tell you it could have easily been closer to five or six.
The good news for City, however, is that one of the few things that the quarterfinal draw allowed them is still in play: Both in the league and (for the most part) in Europe, City have been miles better at the City of Manchester Stadium than they have been away from it, and they’ll have a chance to prove it once again next week.
They were completely outworked for 89 minutes in Hamburg, but Ireland’s goal in the first 35 seconds of the first leg means that a 2-0 win in the second would send the Blues through on away goals. It’s much easier said than done, obviously, but if City can take their undoubted player of the year’s advice in his post-game interview with BBC Radio 5 Live, show their team’s quality and “be braver,” then a spot in the semifinals isn’t completely out of the question just yet.
Thursday night should have shown any myopic viewers that are solely in the tank for Premier League sides that the German Bundesliga is not to be ignored, with Hamburg and Werder Bremen taking English and Italian teams to task. Werder Bremen has most likely already booked its passage into the semis with their own 3-1 win on Thursday, but the gap in talent between Bremen and Udinese is greater than that between Hamburg and Manchester City, and Hamburg manager Martin Jol’s men would do well to keep that in mind when they come to Eastlands next week.