RB Leipzig centre-back Josko Gvardiol scored a second-half header, cancelling out Riyad Mahrez’s strike to earn a 1-1 draw against Manchester City in their Champions League last 16 clash on Wednesday.
In the other game on the night, Romelu Lukaku boosted Inter Milan’s chances of reaching the Champions League quarter finals for the first time in over a decade after scoring the only goal in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Porto.
One of the breakout stars of the Qatar World Cup as the cornerstone of Croatia’s miserly defence, Gvardiol showed his attacking flair, launching himself above the City defence to head in the equaliser in the 70th minute.
City took the lead after 27 minutes through Mahrez and looked on course for a comfortable away win but their fluency deserted them after the interval in the first leg tie.
The home side, who have only lost once in their past 20 games, found their zip in the second half and looked the team most likely to head to the Etihad for the return leg with a victory under their belt.
City’s star striker Erling Haaland suffered for a lack of service, with the Norwegian clearly missing ill midfielder Kevin de Bruyne.
City dominated possession in trademark fashion for the first quarter of the match, but failed to carve out any opportunities against a well-drilled and structured home side.
“At the end, we were a little nervous, the coach told us to calm down, there are 90 minutes left to play,” said Mahrez.
Leipzig coach Marco Rose added: “Two very, very different halves. We just didn’t happen in the first half, just chased the ball, were very bad when we had it. The second was quite different, we were better with the ball, won it back better and played how we had envisioned to play.”
The breakthrough came in the 27th minute, when City midfielder Jack Grealish took advantage of a sloppy pass from Xaver Schlager, pouncing with threading a vertical ball goalwards.
City captain Ilkay Gundogan attracted the attention of the Leipzig defence but let the ball run through his legs into the path of Mahrez, who cut a shot past the fingertips of goalkeeper Janis Blaswich and into the net.
The introduction of Christopher Nkunku in the 66th minute came during the home side’s best period of the game and gave them an immediate boost, striker Andre Silva forcing a rushed save from Ederson a minute later.
Gvardiol snuffed out an Haaland counter attack and got the home side on the scoreboard soon after, climbing a metre higher than the City defence to head in the equaliser from a Marcel Halstenberg corner.
Man City held on as Leipzig searched for a winner, meaning both teams head to Manchester on an equal footing ahead of the return fixture on March 14.
Belgium forward Lukaku struck with four minutes remaining of the first leg at the San Siro on the rebound from his own header to decide an absorbing encounter.
Simone Inzaghi’s side travel to Portugal next month to decide who will go through to the last eight with a slight advantage thanks to Lukaku’s second goal in as many games in all competitions.
The 29-year-old, who has struggled with injury all season, struck his first league goal since August at the weekend and came off the bench in the second half to ensure Inter will have a lead to protect in the second leg as they seek a first quarter-final tie since 2011.
“Winning is the most important thing... I’m focusing on trying to do what’s best for Inter,” said Lukaku to Amazon Prime.
“I’m pleased for the win, let’s hope we can keep it going.”
Lukaku stuck as Sergio Conceicao’s Porto were playing with 10 men after key midfielder Otavio, in his first appearance since the start of February, was sent off in the 78th minute for two bookable offences.
The Portuguese champions have been a bogey side to Italian teams in recent seasons but will have to turn the aggregate score around if they are to add to the series of Serie A scalps which include Juventus and Roma.
“It’s a slight advantage that we’ll try to make it count against a good, physical team which is used to playing in the last 16 and quarterfinals... It’s a great win,” said Inzaghi.
“It was deserved for what we did on the pitch, but we know it’s not finished here and the second leg will be difficult.”