Manchester City’s Champions League meeting with Borussia Dortmund was billed as the elite stage for one of the most talked-about 20-year-olds in world football – and so it proved.
In this instance, however, Manchester City’s Phil Foden had the final word over Haaland with the late winner in a fascinating quarter-final first leg.
Haaland had shown flashes of his undoubted brilliance but it was Foden, putting aside the frustration of failing to convert two earlier opportunities, who scored the 89th-minute winner to give Manchester City a slender 2-1 lead to take into the second leg.
The prodigious Norwegian Haaland – currently being courted by so many of Europe’s superpowers – may yet have his say in the second leg in Dortmund as he also demonstrated what all the fuss is about.
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Dortmund will still feel right in this tie, especially as this triumvirate of glorious young talent on show in Manchester was completed by their outstanding England 17-year-old Jude Bellingham, who once again showed remarkable maturity and was involved in the night’s most contentious moment.
But it was Foden who made the decisive contribution after Dortmund’s enterprise was rewarded with Marco Reus’ 84th-minute away goal equaliser, City rousing themselves from their disappointment to put their noses in front once more.
As with Haaland and Bellingham, Foden has a football wisdom that belies his youth, constantly probing throughout, making his way into dangerous positions, not put off by missing his opportunities before finally hitting the target to allow City cautious optimism for the return.
While his winner means he overshadowed Haaland, Dortmund’s golden boy hinted at his menace throughout and Guardiola needs no warning about his level of threat and the danger he poses to City’s long-held Champions League aspirations.
The first thing that strikes about Haaland is his sheer size – towering over his team-mates, a hugely imposing physical presence.
And, even on one of his quieter nights, Haaland showed graphically he is the complete package who will stamp his name indelibly on the game for years to come.
Haaland was on the margins in the first half but still showed good touch, team awareness and an unselfishness to set up Bellingham in a better position to bring a first-half save from Ederson.
It was in the second half, however, when Haaland showed exactly what he is about. The moments were fleeting but the threat was clear.
Haaland was the epitome of explosive pace, power and physical ferocity to get in behind City’s outstanding defender Ruben Dias, no slouch himself, to get on the end of a pass.
Manchester City’s defender just got close enough to put Haaland slightly off balance in a one-on-one with Ederson and his shot was straight at the keeper.
And it was Haaland’s subtle touch and vision that played in the experienced Reus for the goal that looked like it would take the visitors back home to Germany on level terms.
It was not to be but Haaland’s presence will tower all over the second leg.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is playing it cool over any potential interest in Haaland, who will cost well in excess of £100m, and while he may not yet quite possess the prodigious work-rate the Catalan demands, it does not require a huge leap of the imagination to visualise the sort of havoc he could wreak in a side as creative as the runaway Premier League leaders.
Whether Guardiola’s position softens remains to be seen but one club is going to get a mighty striker when Haaland leaves Germany.
Foden is priceless to Manchester City and every contribution he makes on this highest club stage only states an even stronger case for his inclusion in England’s team for this summer’s European Championship.
Another player in contention is Bellingham, who has made a seamless transition from the Championship and Birmingham City to the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund.
Bellingham, at 17, is a player of vision, creativity, and with an eye for a goal and a nerveless approach that makes him right at home at this rarefied level.
And he had every right to be the most disappointed player inside Etihad Stadium when he, and Borussia Dortmund, appeared to be denied a clear goal that would have applied even more heat to Manchester City.
Bellingham was first to a throughball ahead of Ederson and even though Manchester City’s keeper appeared to kick his foot, erratic Romanian referee Ovidiu Hetegan – who earlier had to overturn a penalty he awarded to City when he penalised Emre Can for a foul on Rodri – stunned most of those gathered inside this largely deserted arena by blowing his whistle and awarding the home side a free-kick.
It was a moment that left Bellingham, who was in the process of rolling the ball into an empty net, stunned as he crouched in disbelief. It was easy to sympathise, especially as the official could easily have let play go on before referring to VAR, when a goal would surely have been awarded.
Injustice for Bellingham and Borussia – but still plenty to play for in Germany.
And with three talents like Foden, Haaland and Bellingham on show, there is still plenty on offer in this intriguing Champions League quarter-final.
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