It was a night more about the build up and the finale, despite four goals, rather than the match itself as Joe Hart’s heroics in a decisive penalty shoot-out secured the win for City at the Melbourne Cricket Ground over Roma. As the night rolled in, all eyes were drawn to the MCG, the floodlights piercing in to the darkness. Cricket’s Maracana hosted the second game, of a three part series of the International Champions Cup. Roma stole the march over Real Madrid in Saturday night’s first installment, meaning both games have now been settled from 12 yards.
City, looking much changed from their opening games of their tour on Australia’s East Coast, broke the deadlock early on; record signing Raheem Sterling taking just three minutes to open his account, met with a chorus of boos from all corners of the stadium, from the local Liverpool contingent. Sterling, who was supported by a midfield of both youth and experience, tripped over his own feet in the opening exchanges before latching on to Kelechi Iheanacho’s through ball to slot coolly past Morgan De Sanctis.
Sterling and Iheanacho, along with David Silva and Manu Garcia probed for a second, whilst Bruno Zuculini and Fernando held the fort in midfield, but it wouldn’t come as Roma threated through Florenzi down the right hand side. It was a Miralem Pjanic effort almost equal in power and accuracy to Samir Nasri’s goal in Rome when the sides last met, that levelled the sides just five minutes later, Willy Caballero helpless in the goal.
Vincent Kompany, returning to Manchester to become a father again, made his first and last appearance alongside Eliaquim Mangala on this tour, and the pair were often troubled without the added protection of Yaya Toure alongside Fernando in the middle of the park.
Both were called in to action, as a strong back unit came under pressure, with Roma afforded to much time outside the box firied shots at Caballero, whilst City looked to play keep ball in order to reestablish a lead. The openings Roma created, often too easy leave work to be done ahead of the new campaign.
Manuel Pellegrini rang the changes at the break, more so than in the Gold Coast, with 8 substitutions. EDS starlets James Horsfield, Jason Denayer, Rony Lopes and Brandon Barker all played the second half and contributed. Barker and Lopes continued the tidy work of Silva and Manu Garcia – who came in for praise from the manager for the second game running, while Horsfield and Denayer looked more than adept in front of Joe Hart.
It was a familiar face who provided the assist for City’s second; Ashley Cole. His misplaced back pass was latched on to by Iheanacho, and after failing to beat the trap a couple of times before showed great control and finished with aplomb to put City in front. The youngster’s celebration, dropping to his knees and looking to the sky, showed what the victory would have meant – even in friendly circumstances – to City’s younger contingent if the win would have been secured inside 90 minutes, had it not been for another sublime effort from Roma. Yaya Toure felled Seydou Doumbia on the edge of the box and Adem Ljajic left Joe Hart rooted to the spot, with a pinpoint free-kick. Ljajic’s equalizer forced the game to penalties.
After Aleks Kolorov skied the second over the bar, Roma simply had to keep scoring. After being ‘Panenkered’ by Ljajic, Hart pushed Roma’s fourth on to the post but the ball still squeezed its way in. With the pressure on, Hart himself rifled City’s fifth in, in what was effectively sudden death. Saving Roma’s fifth, Hart secured hero status on the night. Horsefield scored to give City the lead, and Hart denied Seydou Keita to steal the win.