Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden handed Manchester City a hard-earned 2-0 victory over Dinamo Zagreb on a difficult night at the Etihad.
Sterling netted the all-important opener on 66 minutes, less than ten minutes after coming off the bench, before Foden made sure of the three points deep into stoppage-time after being introduced just moments earlier.
It was a deserved three points for City, but it was not a comfortable evening for the Premier League champions.
They dominated possession and passed up numerous chances, much to the frustration of Pep Guardiola and the City fans, as the visitors defended with great discipline and determination throughout.
But they broke through eventually and sit top of Group C on six points.
At a subdued Etihad, barring the vocal following from Croatia, it took 13 minutes before the first real opening for the hosts. A misplaced Zagreb pass saw Sergio Aguero through on goal, but Dominik Livakovic was off his line quickly to narrow the angle and smother Aguero’s effort. Bernardo Silva’s follow up was over the bar.
After Aguero and Bernardo Silva wasted further chances, Dinamo had their first look at goal on the 20 minute mark. Dino Peric headed straight at Ederson from a corner.
City then passed up two more glorious chances before the half-hour mark. First Ilkay Gundogan fired an effort against the bar, then David Silva could not direct a shot on target from six yards, seeing it pass agonisingly wide of the post.
Aguero was denied again before half-time, David Silva saw a penalty shout overturned and City ended the half increasingly frustrated. They made 357 passes, yet tested Livakovic just twice.
It was much of the same after the break, although plenty of credit has to go to Zagreb as they defended for their lives and limited clear-cut chances. Aguero nearly capitalised on a rare mix-up between Livakovic and Peric, only to fire straight at the keeper and Guardiola decided enough was enough, sending Sterling on for Bernardo Silva.
It was a move that paid off within ten minutes. A short corner saw Rodri receive the ball on the edge of the box, he played Mahrez in down the left and his cross was converted by Sterling on the edge of the six-yard box. The celebrations at the Etihad were full of relief.
City should have added to their lead as Aguero planted a header straight at the keeper and shot wide from six-yards as he wasted an unusual amount of chances.
He should have also been handed another opportunity, this time from the penalty spot, only for VAR to surprisingly not overturn the referee’s decision. Gundogan could have had a penalty when he was clattered into by Stojanovic ,and moments later Aguero was clearly tripped by Peric.
That the VAR did not even ask the referee to go and view either incident by the side of the pitch infuriated Guardiola, who had already been booked for complaining to the referee.
It was left to another substitute to finish the game off and add a bit of gloss to the final score in stoppage-time. Foden was introduced after the clock had passed 90 minutes and made the most of his short time on the pitch.
Dinamo threw men forward for a last-gasp free-kick, City broke and Sterling drove through the middle, fed Foden and watched the teenager finish with a sweetly struck first-time shot. Job done for City.