After Manchester City dismantled Tottenham Hotspur over the weekend, it looked as though it would be asking an awful lot of Viktoria Plzen to go to the Etihad and not concede double-digit goals. But instead of being over-awed by the opposition, the Czech side turned up and played some excellent football, taking the game to City and causing them some real problems. Granted, they lost 4-2 anyway, but at least they did the travelling support proud.
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The hosts started just as they'd left off against Spurs. Javi Garcia could have given them the lead inside six minutes when he redirected a Samir Nasri free kick just wide, and Edin Dzeko mind have gone clean through against Matus Kozacik if Fernandinho had weighted his pass a little better. When Nasri slammed a 30-yard shot off the crossbar, it looked as though Plzen were in for a long, long evening.
But then the unexpected happened: The visitors found their way into the game. Right back Frantisek Rajtoral served notice of the fact that the Czechs weren't going to go down easily when he ghosted through the City defence and sent a half shot, half pass just wide of Hart's goal. Then Michael Duris sent an equally good chance just wide after good work from Daniel Kolar.
City grabbed a goal against the run of play when Rajtoral blocked Sergio Aguero's shot with an outstretched arm. Referee Fırat Aydınus pointed to the spot immediately, and the striker sent Kozacik the wrong way to give the hosts a 1-0 lead. Further disaster struck Plzen in the form of an injury to Roman Hubnik, who came off much the worse in a collision with Tomas Horava.
Those setbacks didn't seem to faze Plzen at all. Hubnik soldiered on despite the head wound, and just before halftime Horava brought the visitors back to level pegging with a peach of a goal. Kolar drove forward, and with the City defense expecting a pass into the box, he instead played the ball sideways to Horava, who had time to blast a swerving 25-yard shot past Joe Hart and into the top corner.
It was a good time to score, and Plzen would have been further buoyed when Aguero failed to come out for the second half. But it was the hosts who came out the stronger, and they went 2-1 up just after the hour mark. Fernandinho had already threatened after a corner, but the visitors failed to improve their marking and minutes later they were behind again. Yaya Toure, on as a substitute, drove to the byline and cut the ball back for Jesus Navas, who crossed and set up Nasri for a delightful volley past Kozacik.
Plzen heads failed to drop. They'd already come back once, and were fully prepared to do so again. Kolar very nearly came up with an immediate reply, forcing Hart into a save with a 35-yard thunderbolt. That stop merely delayed the equalizer -- Kolar and the Plzen attack worked their way around a set of statues in blue shirts before the ball came to Stanislav Tecl, who slotted in to make it 2-2.
Unfortunately for the Czechs, it was City who had the last laugh. Dzeko fed Navas on the left, and although the Bosnian couldn't quite make contact with the return ball, Alvaro Negredo was on hand to tap in at the far post. There'd be no comeback this time (although not for lack of trying, on both Plzen's part and Martin Demichelis'), and City, who, it should be pointed out, were already qualified, marched on, finally killing off the game through a late header from Dzeko.
Manchester City starting lineup (4-4-2): Joe Hart; Aleksandar Kolarov, Joleon Lescott, Martin Demichelis, Micah Richards; Samir Nasri (Alvaro Negredo 76'), Fernandinho (Yaya Toure 64'), Javi Garcia, James Milner; Sergio Aguero (Sergio Aguero 45'), Edin Dzeko.
Goals: Aguero 33', Nasri 65', Negredo 78', Dzeko 89'.
Viktoria Plzen starting lineup (4-4-1-1): Matus Kozacik; Roman Hubnik, Vaclav Prochazka, Marian Cisovsky, Frantisek Rajtoral; Michal Duris, Pavel Horvath, Tomas Horava, Milan Petrzela (Jan Kovarik 73'); Daniel Kolar (Marek Bakos 86'); Stanisalv Tecl.
Goals: Horava 43', Tecl 69'.