Manchester City through to Champions League knockout stage after Foden winner

Young forward seizes his chance to score only goal of game

Soccer Football - Champions League - Group C - Olympiacos v Manchester City - Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus, Greece - November 25, 2020 Manchester City's Phil Foden in action REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
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Phil Foden sent Pep Guardiola another reminder of his scoring ability by earning Manchester City a 1-0 win at Olympiakos on Wednesday, clinching the English team a place in the knockout stage of the Champions League for an eighth straight season.

The highly rated forward is the rising star in City’s squad but has been unable to secure regular game time in the Premier League this season, despite the team’s unfamiliar struggles in front of goal.

Guardiola gave Foden, 20, a start against the Greek champions in Piraeus and the England international responded by sweeping in the only goal of the game in the 36th minute after meeting a back-heel from Raheem Sterling with a first-time shot.

In a game that at times resembled an attack versus defence training drill, City failed to make its dominance count in goals but barely allowed Olympiakos into the visitors’ penalty area, strolling to a victory that guarantees a top-two finish in Group C.

City has won all four of its games so far in what, on paper, always looked like one of the weakest groups in overall quality.

It has never won Europe’s elite competition and Guardiola has not led a side to the title since the second of his triumphs with Barcelona in 2011.

“We make an incredible group stage, especially our two games away,” he said.

"Twelve points, already qualified, we are going to try to finish first of course.

“I know it looks easy when it happens but it’s not. It’s because of the quality of the players they are.”

Olympiakos, which was missing six regular starters because of the coronavirus or injuries, is in third place on three points.

It is three behind Porto, which plays away to Marseille later Wednesday.

“We had so many players out and it was obvious tonight," Olympiakos coach Pedro Martins said.

"City made things very tough for us. It’s unfair for me to point out that we had few chances because we did the absolute best with what we had.”

Foden moved on to four goals for City in all competitions this season, and was the team’s brightest player in an empty stadium.

But he has only played a total of 72 minutes in City’s last four Premier League games, starting on the bench for each.

Guardiola’s team has been unable to find its attacking spark, scoring just 10 goals in eight league games, and again lacked a cutting edge against Olympiakos.

Being without the rested Kevin De Bruyne probably did not help.

Guardiola was happier with how City attacked compared to recent games.

“Unfortunately we could only score one goal but the team is alive,” he said.

“Today we were much more incredible, much more aggressive. It’s not easy (against a defence) with nine players but our pressing was so good.”

Bernardo Silva squandered the best of the rest of the chances, flicking the ball straight at goalkeeper Jose Sa from close range in the second half.

Sa also twice denied Sterling before the break.

Sergio Aguero came on as a 78th-minute substitute for City for his first appearance since October 24 after recovering from a hamstring injury.

A minute's silence was held before kickoff in honor of Diego Maradona, the Argentinian soccer great who died on Wednesday at the age of 60.