Mario Balotelli lived up to his ‘Super Mario’ nickname with an explosive cameo off the subs bench in Timisoara this evening.
The powerful former Inter Milan striker scored the only goal in City’s 1-0 win over their Romanian opponents to take help the Blues take a huge step towards the group stages of the Europa League ahead of next week’s return in Manchester.
Balotelli stroked home the winner on 71 minutes after great work by Yaya Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor. If this is a taste of things to come, the City fans may have just found a new hero.
On a cloudless, balmy evening in Timisoara, the Blues walked out to a packed stadium to begin what we all hope will be a long and successful Europa League campaign.
With local interest reaching fever pitch during City’s stay in Romania, the partisan atmosphere reflected the fact that this was one of the hosts’ biggest games in recent times.
Roberto Mancini paid Timisoara the ultimate respect of fielding a full-strength side, minus new signing James Milner who arrived at the club only yesterday.
Joe Hart was once again got the nod ahead of Shay Given in goal, while Joleon Lescott replaced the injured Aleksandar Kolarov at left-back.
Pablo Zabaleta and Emmanuel Adebayor, both subs at Tottenham last Saturday, were also promoted to the starting line up at the expense of Micah Richards and Shaun Wright-Phillips respectively.
The first half was largely unspectacular, with both defences looking reasonably comfortable. There was one scare, however, when Timisoara winger Alexandru Curtean skipped past Zabaleta early on and then fell to the floor, but referee Mayer was unimpressed and waved claims for a penalty away.
City finished the opening period the better team, but the failure to create a clear-cut opening had echoes of the opening 45 minutes at White Hart Lane.
The Blues began the second half where they’d left off and twice got behind the Timisoara defence in the opening exchanges and David Silva saw a shot strike the underside of the bar, unaware he’d already been flagged for offside.
On 55 minutes, Mancini decided to up the stakes by taking off Gareth Barry and bringing on new signing Mario Balotelli whose first challenge for a header almost sent a home defender in to Row Z!
Adam Johnson replaced Silva on 63 minutes as the Blues searched for the goal that would make the second leg that much more comfortable – and on 69 minutes, a brilliant piece of control by Yaya Toure saw the Ivorian chest the ball past a defender and then send a thunderous drive against the post.
Two minutes later, Balotelli was celebrating his first City goal after a combination of Yaya Toure and Adebayor presented the Blues’ new No.45 with a simple tap-in. It was no more than Mancini’s men deserved after completely dominating the second period.
The fiery Italian was booked as he announced his arrival in City colours with a sizeable bang. Jo replaced tiring skipper Tevez on 77 minutes as Mancini played his final card, but with there were was to be no more scoring on a satisfying evening for the Blues.