Crouch’s Role Reversal Hands Manchester City First Champions League Berth
Manchester City qualified for soccer’s Champions League for the first time with a 1-0 win over Tottenham that guaranteed a top-four finish in England.
An own goal by Peter Crouch at the City of Manchester Stadium gave City the victory last night. It came about a year after Crouch’s strike at the same ground sent Spurs into Europe’s elite club competition at City’s expense.
Playing in the Champions League was one of the goals set by City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan when he bought the club in 2008. The Abu Dhabi ruling family member has spent more than 350 million pounds ($573.1 million) to bring players including Carlos Tevez, David Silva and Yaya Toure to a club that last won a major trophy in 1976.
“In two or three years Manchester City can become one of the top teams in Europe,” manager Roberto Mancini told City’s website. “We got this because the players wanted to play in the Champions League and deserved to play in the Champions League.”
City has a chance to end its 35-year trophy drought in three days when it faces Premier League rival Stoke City in the F.A. Cup final at London’s Wembley Stadium.
City’s win last night also guaranteed a place in next season’s Europa League for Stoke, which qualifies for the second-tier competition by reaching the cup final. Liverpool hosts Spurs on May 14 in a game that may decide which team finishes in fifth place to claim another Europa League spot.
With two games remaining, City can secure direct entry into the Champions League group stage by overtaking third-place Arsenal, which has 67 points to City’s 65. The fourth-place team enters a two-game playoff for a group-stage place.
Two Games, Two Points
“There’s a chance because we’ve got two games left and we’re just two points behind them,” City defender Micah Richards told his team’s website. “The main thing is that we’ve already qualified for the Champions League and nobody can take that away from us.”
Tottenham advanced to the quarterfinals this season before losing 5-0 to Real Madrid over two games. The run earned Spurs 13.4 million euros ($19.3 million) in revenue from tournament organizer UEFA, before ticket sales.
The winning goal last night came moments after Luka Modric missed a chance to put Spurs ahead when he fired wide from Aaron Lennon’s pass. Crouch then deflected James Milner’s cross past Carlo Cudicini, his own goalkeeper, in the 30th minute.
Steven Pienaar and Lennon shot over in the second half with teammates well placed. City almost doubled its lead in the 87th minute, though William Gallas cleared Patrick Vieira’s chip off the goal line.
Tevez, City’s captain and top scorer this season with 22 goals, came on with seven minutes remaining after being sidelined for a month because of a hamstring injury. The Argentine striker was denied a goal-scoring return in injury time by Cudicini’s save.
Tevez isn’t guaranteed to start against Stoke in the F.A. Cup final, Mancini said.
“I don’t think Carlos can be ready 100 percent because he played 15 minutes and did only one week’s training,” Mancini said.
The Italian coach also warned his players against allowing Champions League qualification to distract them from proper preparation for the F.A. Cup final.
“If we think it will be an easy game, that will be a big mistake,” Mancini said. “We used up a lot of energy against Tottenham.”
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