Manchester City's Phil Foden celebrates after scoring his side's second...

Manchester City's Phil Foden celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the group G Champions League soccer match between Manchester City and RB Leipzig at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, England, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023. Credit: AP/Dave Thompson

MANCHESTER, England — Trailing 2-0 at halftime against Leipzig in the Champions League on Tuesday, Phil Foden couldn’t believe what he was seeing from Manchester City.

By the end he had inspired a rousing fightback as the defending champions won 3-2 to advance to the knockout stage of the competition atop Group G.

“First half was the worst I’ve seen us. Courage and motivation changed it around,” Foden said. “This team has great mentality and it’s so nice to see.

“We just needed that (first) goal to get going.”

Foden scored one and helped to create two more as Pep Guardiola’s team preserved an unbeaten home record in the Champions League that dates back to 2018.

The England forward set up a goal for Erling Haaland in the 54th minute and evened the score in the 70th. He then played a part in the buildup for substitute Julian Alvarez’s winner in the 87th to complete the comeback.

Haaland’s goal saw him set another benchmark by becoming the fastest player to score 40 Champions League goals by reaching that total in 35 games.

Manchester City's Phil Foden celebrates after scoring his side's second...

Manchester City's Phil Foden celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the group G Champions League soccer match between Manchester City and RB Leipzig at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, England, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023. Credit: AP/Dave Thompson

On Saturday the Norwegian had set a Premier League record by reaching 50 goals in 48 appearances.

But it was Leipzig forward Lois Openda who had looked like firing his team to an unlikely win with goals in the 13th and 33rd.

That was until City responded like champions after the break and turned the game around, with Foden at the heart of the comeback.

“We had to be (as) relaxed as possible and we reacted really well,” Guardiola said. “We are first in the group and I am very satisfied for the reaction at the end. The team runs and fights and has spirit,”

Manchester City's Phil Foden celebrates after scoring his side's second...

Manchester City's Phil Foden celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the group G Champions League soccer match between Manchester City and RB Leipzig at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, England, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023. Credit: AP/Dave Thompson

City is now unbeaten in 29 home games in the competition since losing 2-1 against Lyon in Sept. 2018. It has topped its Champions Group for seven seasons in a row.

Both teams had already qualified for the last 16. City has 15 points from five games, six points more than second-place Leipzig.

Leipzig had suffered its heaviest European defeat when losing 7-0 at this venue in last season’s round of 16.

That performance, which included Haaland scoring a record-equaling five goals in one Champions League match, had been a pointer to what City would go on to achieve — conquering Europe for the first time and also winning the Premier League title and FA Cup.

However, it quickly became clear there would be no repeat of that rout when Openda fired the visitors ahead. The Belgium forward shook off a challenge from Manuel Akanji and raced through on goal before placing a shot into the bottom corner to beat goalkeeper Stefan Ortega.

By the time he scored his second, City had missed chances through Ruben Dias and Rico Lewis.

Again Openda capitalized on City’s lack of cover at the back, this time beating Dias down the left and then turning inside Josep Gvardiol in the box and shooting low to the left.

Haaland wasted another chance for the home team before halftime to sum up a sloppy performance from Guardiola’s team.

“What I told the guys was that we made them angry in the first half,” Leipzig coach Marco Rose said. “(It was going to be) Difficult. That’s what we knew and that’s what we saw in the second half.”

Haaland was back to his clinical best when given the chance to pull a goal back shortly after the break.

Running onto Foden’s pass, he adjusted his feet and hit a left-footed shot into the bottom corner for his latest record-breaking strike. The Norway international is also the co-leading scorer in this year’s competition, level on five goals with Manchester United’s Rasmus Hojlund and Atletico Madrid’s Alvaro Morata.

Foden evened the score after showing skillful footwork to make space for himself in the box and then firing between Lukas Klostermann’s legs and past goalkeeper Janis Blaswich.

Foden was involved again for Alvarez’s late goal when his cutback was deflected into the path of the the Argentine who finished from close range.

___

James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

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