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City beat United in battle of Manchester

By James Montague, CNN
updated 7:14 AM EDT, Tue May 1, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Manchester City beat Manchester United 1-0 in derby match key to title race
  • City captain Vincent Kompany heads the game's only goal at the end of first half
  • City go top in the English Premier League on goal difference with two games to play
  • Worldwide audience of 600 million watched the game between fierce local rivals

(CNN) -- The world watched Manchester, and Manchester watched the world turn red and blue.

According to some analysts more than 600 million people across the globe tuned into see the blue of Manchester City beat the red of Manchester United 1-0, arguably the biggest audience for the biggest match in English Premier League history.

Vincent Kompany's headed goal deep in first-half injury time was enough to take City top of the league from their rivals on goal difference. Psychologically, with two games left, it could prove decisive and hand City the advantage as they hunt a historic first Premier League title.

The match itself was enthralling without being exciting, tense without many chances on goal. But by the end, as Manchester City fans sang their club's famous adopted song "Blue Moon," there was a sense that history was being witnessed. United coach Alex Ferguson lost his cool and remonstrated with his opposite number Roberto Mancini. But the game was lost for United. Perhaps as one empire rises, another falls.

I think next Saturday we'll have another difficult day
Manchester City Coach Roberto Mancini

TV networks from China to Qatar sent their chief correspondents to relay something of the febrile atmosphere to their expectant domestic audiences, audiences that have taken English football as their own over the past two decades.

Even in America, traditionally one of the few bastions of football refuseniks, TV chiefs decided to upgrade the match to ESPN's main channel. This, CNN's Eliott C. McLaughlin told us, was a very big deal indeed.

Yet it wasn't always like this.

Once, not so long ago, few outside of those standing on the terraces attending this derby match in the north west of England would have been able to watch the spectacle.

True the Manchester derby has always been a passionate, sometimes brutal affair over the years. The fortunes of both the red half of United and the blue of City have ebbed and flowed as the decades pass. City haven't won the league for 44 years. Instead they watched United become the greatest team of the Premier League era, not to mention arguably the most recognizable and profitable brand in the world.

Manchester football giants to clash

But in 1974 the boot was on the other foot when Denis Law -- a United legend who had signed for City -- sheepishly backheeled the goal that relegated United to the second division.

Such a scenario in 2012 would be unthinkable. Today the Manchester derby has reached the kind of global prominence that Barcelona versus Real Madrid -- even if Spain's biggest match isn't a derby in the truest sense of the word -- would normally enjoy.

Man U. looks for another title

Its rise is much more than just the story of two successful football teams. The rise of the Manchester derby is also the story of the rise of globalization.

United and City are separated by just five miles yet the local has become the global.

On the pitch, 10 different nationalities featured. The stadium's naming rights have been sold to a Middle Eastern airline. United is owned by the Glazer family, the American venture capitalists who knew virtually nothing about football outside of their love of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who bought the English club in an unpopular leveraged buy out.

Manchester City has been transformed by the mega money from the Arab world, owned as it is by Sheikh Mansour from the ruling family of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. It was Sheikh Mansour's money that turned a sleepy, underperforming club into champions elect.

As the movement of capital and talent has been made easier, football -- and especially the Premier League -- has reaped the financial benefits. But no two entities have benefited more than Manchester's two football clubs.

"I think we deserved to win this game," Mancini told British TV after the match.

"I think next Saturday we'll have another difficult day."

And he's right, of course. Manchester City easily fended off United's late charge. United didn't even manage a shot on target during the entire 90 minutes. Now the two teams are equal on points with just two matches left.

As Mancini said, next Saturday will be the same as Monday; a difficult day, almost too close to call.

But there's one thing that you can predict. On Saturday the world will be watching once again.

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