MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Fear of the future usually accompanies Manchester City into the draw for the Champions League's last 16.
Not this season.
City finished top of its group for the first time in five attempts after scoring three late goals in a five-minute span to beat Borussia Moenchengladbach 4-2 on Tuesday. Juventus' 1-0 loss in Sevilla meant City climbed to first place after the final round of matches in Group D.
Instead of a potential meeting against an elite European club like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, City should receive a far kinder reward in the round of 16 draw next week. For that reason, it felt like a key moment for a club that has struggled to get to grips with the demands of Europe's top competition.
"Of course it's better not to play in this stage with Barcelona, with Bayern, with Real Madrid," said City manager Manuel Pellegrini, who typically wasn't getting carried away. "But that doesn't mean you're now in the next stage because you don't play against those teams."
Yet Pellegrini's fist-pumping celebrations after City's third and fourth goals hinted just how important this win might be. After 79 minutes, City was losing 2-1, only for Raheem Sterling to score twice in 112 seconds to put his team ahead by the 81st.
Wilfried Bony wrapped up the victory in the 85th minute and City fans could celebrate even more on hearing the result of Sevilla vs. Juventus.
On the two previous occasions City reached the knockout stage, the team had finished runner-up in the group, was paired with Barcelona twice, and lost both times. By topping one of the toughest groups in the competition, City is likely to get a much easier draw in the last 16.
As for Moenchengladbach, the combination of results meant the German team finished in last place in the group and was knocked out of Europe entirely.
"We are disappointed on one hand," 'Gladbach coach Andre Schubert said, "but we are happy that we have produced some good performances and represented Germany well in this difficult group as newcomers. It's an incentive to get there again in future."
On Saturday, Moenchengladbach became the first team to beat Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga this season, continuing the team's strong form under the recently hired Schubert. And there was no panic in the German side when City took the lead in the 16th through David Silva, who smashed a rising finish into the roof of the net after running onto Sterling's backheel.
City played with no out-and-out striker and with Silva as a so-called "false nine" — a departure for Pellegrini, who has often deployed two strikers. As sprightly as ever going forward, it was City's defense that once again let them down.
American midfielder Fabian Johnson ran unchallenged between Gael Clichy and Nicolas Otamendi, before squaring a ball that Julian Korb lashed home with a low finish to equalize in the 19th.
Clichy, playing out of position at right back, was getting over-run, and the next goal came from his side just before the break, with Oscar Wendt's cross flicked on by Johnson for Raffael to turn in from six meters. Cue more noise from fans in the away contingent, which never stopped singing.
It was all City in the second half as Moenchengladbach sat back, and Sterling was denied twice by goalkeeper Yann Sommer — the second, a great save low down.
Sterling, playing on his 21st birthday, made amends by tapping in Clichy's cross for the equalizer and then curled a superb shot into the far corner after a breakaway led by substitute Bony. It was quite a statement from a player often criticized for his finishing.
Bony sealed the win further, leaving Pellegrini to celebrate "one of (the) best nights" in City's history.
"If we play the way we played in the second half," Pellegrini said, "we can play against any team."
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