Samir Nasri was the architect of Manchester City FC’s passage to the UEFA Champions League knockout stage, their 2-0 victory at AS Roma securing the all-important runners-up spot in Group E and consigning the Italian side to third place.
An open game hung in the balance on the hour when Nasri advanced to the edge of the penalty area and hit an unstoppable shot that took a lick of paint from the inside of Morgan De Sanctis’s near post on its way in. The Stadio Olimpico fell silent, and though they found their voice when Kostas Manolas headed onto the upright, with four minutes left the immaculate Nasri teed up Pablo Zabaleta to end any lingering doubt.
With PFC CSKA Moskva losing 3-0 at FC Bayern München the result was enough to take City into Friday’s draw as Manuel Pellgrini’s team’s campaign gathers timely momentum. Roma at least have the consolation of a UEFA Europa League berth, but would have hoped for more amid a bright start that almost brought an early goal when Francesco Totti picked out the unmarked José Holebas. The full-back’s shot could not squeeze past Joe Hart.
How finely poised the match was became evident when, within the space of 15 seconds, both sides very nearly took the lead. First James Milner went close for City, forcing a fine stop from De Sanctis; the ball was taken straight down the other end by Gervinho, who came even closer to breaking the deadlock. Hart’s fingertip save came to the visitors’ rescue.
Jesús Navas helped City gain a foothold, twice teeing up Edin Džeko, while Radja Nainggolan, imperious in the Roma midfield, relieved the pressure in his own manner, sending a searching ball from deep to put the livewire Gervinho through. Hart once again stood firm. Navas, increasingly the source of danger, provided a shorter, if equally penetrating pass, for Milner who was rebuffed in similar fashion by De Sanctis.
The interval did not temper City’s ambition and, with Roma beginning to sit back, they sensed their chance and Nasri took it. Rudi Garcia’s team acquired some urgency as Nainggolan went close before Manolas’s brush with the woodwork. Mattia Destro’s effort was also blocked by Martín Demichelis before another Argentinian defender, Zabaleta, landed the killer blow at the other end.