LONDON It was never meant to be like this for Manchester City. England's best team entered the Champions League in September full of hope but on Tuesday they travel to Borussia Dortmund with only a consolation prize on offer.
An unlikely victory at leaders Dortmund will probably be enough to take third spot in Group D with Ajax Amsterdam, the English club's rivals for a Europa League spot, away at second-placed Real Madrid.
But whatever happens the sense of anti-climax will still hang heavy over big-spending City.
There is a school of thought that City might be best-served if they were able to concentrate solely on the Premier League title race with Manchester United and not be weighed down with Europa League commitments.
Coach Roberto Mancini may already have one eye on next weekend's Manchester derby and is likely to rest key players although he would have noted United manager Alex Ferguson's early shots in the phychological warfare.
"Yes, you can have more time on the training ground, but then you have got to deal with the fact that you are not in European football," Ferguson said in the Sunday Express newspaper of City's Champions League demise.
"Every manager wants to do well in Europe. Losing in Europe is never healthy for a big club. How do you keep players happy?
"City are out of the League Cup. Going out of the Champions League is no good for a club of that size," added Ferguson.
"There's nothing better than big European nights. It keeps the momentum going for your season."
City will want to end their Group D campaign on a high while Dortmund are already assured of top spot whatever the result of Tuesday's match.
Bundesliga champions Dortmund are going into the game after a confidence-boosting 1-1 draw at Bayern Munich on Saturday kept them in the race to defend their title.
Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp said he was relieved to go into a Champions League week with their qualification already wrapped up as several of his players are feeling the strain of an already busy schedule in three competitions.
Defender Neven Subotic is nursing an adductor muscle problem while Sven Bender played with an injury against Bayern.
"We have to see who we can have fit to play," Klopp said. "This phase is tough on all my players. I am just happy to have already reached the round of 16."
The Ruhr Valley club are unbeaten in the group phase so City may have some spare time on their hands come March.
Borussia Dortmund: 1-Roman Weidenfeller; 26-Lukasz Piszczek, 4-Neven Subotic, 15-Mats Hummels, 29-Marcel Schmelzer; 10-Mario Goetze, 7-Moritz Leitner, 11-Marco Reus, 8-Ilkay Guendogan, 16-Jakub Blaszczykowski; 9-Robert Lewandowski
Manchester City: 1-Joe Hart; 3-Maicon, 5-Pablo Zabaleta, 4-Vincent Kompany, 33-Matija Nastasic; 11-Scott Sinclair, 18-Gareth Barry; 8-Samir Nasri, 14-Javi Garcia; 10-Edin Dzeko, 45-Mario Balotelli. (Editing by Tony Jimenez)
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