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Man City draws 2-2 with Ajax, keeps CL hopes alive

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) -Manchester City's hopes of avoiding Champions League elimination at the group stage for the second successive year are extremely slim after being held to a 2-2 draw by Ajax on Tuesday.

The English champions conceded twice in the opening 17 minutes when Siem de Jong exploited their defensive frailties with a close-range finish and a header.

Although Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero hauled City back in contention, the hosts couldn't produce a winner, with Mario Balotelli furious to be denied a penalty in stoppage time.

City is bottom of Group D with two points, still five behind Real Madrid and six back from Borussia Dortmund with two matches to go. Ajax has four points.

Europe continues to expose City's shortcomings. City is doing well in the Premier League - unbeaten and sitting third, just two points behind leader Chelsea - but Roberto Mancini's team has still rarely looked convincing.

In the opening minutes, fans showed their continued support for the manager with chants of "Mancini."

They were quickly silenced.

City's defense took only nine minutes to collapse, two weeks after losing 3-1 in Amsterdam to Ajax, which is languishing in fifth place in the Dutch league.

After Matija Nastasic failed to clear Ricardo van Rhijn's corner with a header, the ball was turned goal-ward by Niklas Moisander and De Jong was on hand at the post to hook the ball into the net.

With Ajax in the ascendancy, the Dutch side again prospered from a corner eight minutes later.

And again it was De Jong.

Meeting Christian Eriksen's corner at the near post, he evaded his markers to flick a header past goalkeeper Joe Hart at the near post.

But after a woeful start, a piece of sublime skill from Toure pulled City back into the game.

Samir Nasri's cross wasn't fully cleared, and Toure found the space to bring the ball down with his chest and volley it past Kenneth Vermeer.

City was denied an equalizer on the half-hour when Pablo Zabaleta's header was thwarted by Vermeer's one-handed save.

City responded to the deficit at halftime by bringing Balottelli on for Javi Garcia, and the hosts made a powerful start to the second half with its Champions League hopes on the line.

But Ajax provided a reminder of its threat when De Jong struck the ball from outside the penalty area, with only Hart's two-handed diving save preventing him from scoring a hat trick.

Aguero, though, squandered a golden opening on the hour.

After doing the hard work by rounding Vermeer on the right, Aguero slipped - for the third time in the match - before he could tee up a teammate in front of goal.

After De Jong's free kick was pushed wide by Hart, there was no slip-up from Aguero in the 74th. The Argentina striker kept his footing to finish skillfully after latching onto Balotelli's flick-on.

Only a fine save by Vermeer prevented City from going in front with 10 minutes to go, when Balotelli's powerful header was pushed away.

Aguero thought he had produced the required winner when he nudged the ball over the line from close range, but he was judged to be offside when finding the net.

The game ended in acrimony when Balotelli's shirt was tugged in the final seconds but Peter Rasmussen blew for the final whistle, prompting Mancini to come onto the pitch to confront the Danish referee.

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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