ROBERTO MANCINI: IT'S ALL MY FAULT
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini accepted all the blame for his side's Europa League exit.
City were edged out on away goals in their last-16 tie against Sporting despite a thrilling late comeback at the Etihad Stadium.
The English side trailed 3-0 on aggregate after conceding goals to Matias Fernandez and Ricky van Wolfswinkel in an indisciplined first-half performance.
Yet two goals from Sergio Aguero and a Mario Balotelli penalty, all inside the last half-hour, gave City hope of an unlikely victory which goalkeeper Joe Hart was agonisingly close to completing in injury time.
Mancini said: "In the first half we didn't play, but I am the manager and it's not the players' fault, but mine - I probably made a mistake.
"The players did everything, and fought on the pitch.
"When a manager doesn't prepare well for the game, this happens.
"When I lose a game I think about why I lost and think about where I made mistakes.
"I understand we have big players but in football every game is difficult, and in the Europa League and Champions League it is more difficult, because every team plays to win.
"Sometimes we make mistakes, but the manager is the person who always prepares the game, and I probably made some mistakes for these two games."
Mancini's comments were similar to remarks he made after an unexpected Barclays Premier League defeat at Everton in January, when he blamed poor preparation.
City now only have their title challenge to concentrate on and, after losing top spot in the table last weekend, must now look to get back on track against Chelsea next Wednesday.
Mancini said: "I am proud for the second half because we had a fantastic 45 minutes, but I am very sorry for the players and our supporters because they were fantastic in that second half.
"But I am disappointed in myself, not the players.
"For the second time this year, I hope I don't make mistakes against Chelsea."
Manchester United - who also went out of Europe tonight - now lead the Premier League by a point with 10 games remaining.
Mancini believes the manner of his side's fightback will stand them in good stead for the weeks ahead.
He said: "If we have the same spirit as we had in the second half we can win the next game against Chelsea.
"And I am confident for the Premier League because we stayed on top for seven months and now we are in second position, one point behind. I am very confident we can win the title.
"I think that now it will be a good fight until the end of the season because we have only the Premier League and we can put all of our strength into this. I think it will be good."
Mancini joked that City followed United out of the competition to focus on their title bid.
He said: "We were envious of United because they lost, so we wanted to lose this game!"
Balotelli produced one of his more eccentric performances.
His touch in the first half was poor and frustration got the better of him at times, most notably when he argued with Mancini after conceding the free-kick which led to the Sporting opener.
Mancini said: "I was disappointed with him when he conceded the free-kick, but it is not his fault we lost this game."
Hart thought he had scored an unbelievable winner for City when his injury-time header was pushed wide of the post.
"I can't believe it, I thought it was in," Hart told ESPN.
"It didn't need to get to that, but football is football. The fans were fantastic tonight and we didn't give them what they deserved in the first half.
"Hopefully we can take some positives out of the second half and move on for the rest of the season."
City now have extra time to recover with their next league game pushed back to Wednesday due to opponents Chelsea playing in the FA Cup on Sunday.
"We need to play well in every game," Hart added. "There are not many left now. We've cost ourselves with the first half but if we keep rolling now we'll be all right.
"We're one point behind the leaders of the Premier League, we're a good team and we've got nothing to worry about. We'll go in (against Chelsea) as favourites and we should be favourites."
Kolo Toure, captain in the absence of Vincent Kompany, said City had no time to rue their exit as they look to catch Manchester United in the league.
"It was important to win this game and go through, but now we need to keep our heads up," he said.
"We have a really important game coming up on Wednesday against Chelsea and we have to give it all.
"For Man City now every trophy is very important so when we go out like that, it is always very difficult, but now we just need to think about the future. The past is the past."
Sporting coach Ricardo Sa Pinto never doubted his team had the ability to follow up last week's first-leg success.
The former Portugal striker has overseen a transformation of fortunes since taking charge at the Jose Alvalade Stadium last month, winning six of his eight games in charge.
Sa Pinto said: "I am very proud to be the leader of this team and to have these players working with me.
"I said before, in the first leg and yesterday, that I believed in the team and the players.
"We knew Manchester City were a big team and for that I am really pleased to get through.
"It is great for the image of Sporting to knock out a team like Manchester City, who are one of the best teams in the world."
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