UEFA Champions League

UEFA Champions League: De Bruyne inspires Man City to 3-1 win at Copenhagen in Round of 16

Kevin De Bruyne is so often Manchester City’s man for the big occasion. He delivered again at the start of the Champions League’s knockout stage.

By scoring one goal and having a hand in two others, the Belgium playmaker inspired City to a 3-1 win at FC Copenhagen in the first leg of the round of 16 on Tuesday as the English champion resumed its quest to retain its European crown.

It’s an English-record nine straight wins in the Champions League for City stretching back to last season, and 10 victories in a row in all competitions over the past two months.

It is going to take something special to stop Pep Guardiola’s defending champions.

Only a careless mistake from goalkeeper Ederson Moraes, which led to Copenhagen’s equalizer in the 34th minute, prevented City from taking an even more commanding lead into the second leg in Manchester in three weeks.

Still, few will give the Danish champions hope of turning this around.

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Not with De Bruyne seemingly back in top form already after missing five months with a hamstring injury sustained on the opening day of the season.

“The biggest players appear in the biggest stages,” City manager Pep Guardiola said, when asked about De Bruyne’s display. “It’s the moment of truth when you are in the last 16 of the Champions League.”

De Bruyne’s sure making up for lost time, with nine goal involvements in six games since his return.

“I’m getting there, feeling good and the level is good enough for the moment,” he said modestly. “I’m just trying to play good football and enjoy myself. It has been a long five-to-six months but I’m just happy to try to help the team win games.”

De Bruyne scored the opening goal at atmospheric Parken Stadium with a low finish into the far corner in the 10th minute after running onto Phil Foden’s pass on the right side of the area.

Copenhagen, without a competitive match in two months because of the Danish league’s midseason break, was outplayed in the first half — by the 20th minute, City had enjoyed 85% possession — but still managed to pull level in the 34th after Ederson’s pass out from his area went astray.

It was intercepted by Mohamed Elyounoussi, whose shot was blocked by City defender Ruben Dias. The ball flew toward Copenhagen midfielder Magnus Mattsson, who curled home a first-time shot from edge of the area in a memorable way to mark not only his Copenhagen debut but his first ever Champions League game.

City retook the lead in the first minute of first-half stoppage time. While the build-up wasn’t pretty, the finish from Bernardo Silva certainly was.

De Bruyne overran the ball and lunged to make a tackle, inadvertently sending the ball flying into the path of Silva in the area. As the goalkeeper came out, Silva deftly flicked the ball with his left foot up and into the far corner.

The build-up to the third goal in second-half stoppage time was much easier on the eye and again it involved De Bruyne, who ran onto Foden’s pass down the inside right channel and cut the ball back to the England midfielder, who slotted home.

“There’s no better player in the world at passing the ball,” Foden said of De Bruyne.

There was a huge gulf in quality between the English and European champions and a team playing in the Champions League’s round of 16 for only the second time — and the first time since 2010-11.

City wasn’t even thrown off by an early injury to winger Jack Grealish, who lasted just 21 minutes of his first game in more than a month before being forced off with a suspected right groin injury.


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