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The first leg of Manchester City’s Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid ended scoreless at the Etihad Stadium.
The visitors, without talisman Cristiano Ronaldo for the night due to a thigh problem, suffered a subsequent injury blow when striker Karim Benzema was unable to reappear after the interval.
The hosts lost chief playmaker David Silva to a hamstring strain close to the end of a first half dominated by the conservative approach of the two sides.
Headed opportunities for Sergio Ramos, Jese and Casemiro, along with a point-blank chance for Pepe, failed to pay dividends for Real in the second half.
City occasionally and briefly showed their attacking teeth but looked more likely to concede than score.
Nevertheless, denying the Spanish giants an away goal ensures that Manuel Pellegrini’s men retain more than a fighting chance of securing the club’s maiden visit to the final of Europe’s top club competition.
During the opening period, little attacking space was allowed, and City were at their most dangerous through dead-ball scenarios.
Sergio Aguero found a moment of freedom and struck over the top early in the second period, setting the tone for a latter 45 minutes that was far more open than the preceding half.
After Ramos poorly headed a Toni Kroos corner kick into Hart’s hands and Benzema’s replacement, Jese, found the top of the bar from Dani Carvajal’s clipped cross, Gareth Bale was unable to generate sufficient curl on a 20-yard attempt.
With Madrid well on top, subsequent corners from Kroos caused further havoc, as Hart saved well from Casemiro and superbly charged down Pepe’s powerful close-range strike to ultimately secure a draw for City.
The hosts’ best spell had arrived following Ramos’s free header to Hart, with Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne and first-half substitute Kelechi Iheanacho all lively, albeit without managing to create anything approaching a clear opportunity to score.
Towards the death, the Sky Blues again secured the initiative, but substitute Raheem Sterling’s poor touch from Aguero’s cutting pass and goalkeeper Keylor Navas’s save from de Bruyne’s optimistic free-kick effectively closed out the encounter.
Although Zinedine Zidane’s charges will be favourites to progress to a meeting with Atletico Madrid or Bayern Munich, next week’s second leg at the Bernabeu nevertheless provides City with a fine chance to prolong Pellegrini’s hopes of achieving a dream send-off.
The outgoing boss, though, will have to do without the injured Silva in the Spanish capital after confirming that the attacking midfielder will not be able to regain fitness within a week.
By David Maher