City’s laboured attempts to reach the last 16 of the Champions League for a second successive year reach a potentially dramatic conclusion as they face Roma in the Stadio Olimpico tomorrow.
A stunning Sergio Aguero hat-trick against Bayern Munich a fortnight ago revived the English champions’ hopes of progressing from Group E.
It was their first win in five attempts in the competition this season and another positive result this week could secure a place in the knockout stages that seemed unlikely a month ago.
The equation is still not straightforward, with City locked on five points with Roma and CSKA Moscow in pursuit of the second qualification spot behind Bayern.
Zabaleta believes if City can survive such a test, the club can finally start to come of age in the Champions League.
The City right-back said: “Always Rome is a great atmosphere, and especially for this game because they have the same points.
“As a player it is one of those games you really enjoy playing. You are playing against a top team and always the atmosphere there is just fantastic as well. It will be huge.
“I think Roma is a crucial game for us to show that we want to continue in that competition and we want to go far. The quality is there to do this and hopefully we can have a great game and go through.”
City need to win and hope that CSKA do not beat Bayern, or claim a score draw and hope CSKA lose. A goalless draw would not lift them above Roma.
They are boosted by a return to form, with five successive victories in all competitions since the November international break, but hampered by the loss of form player Aguero.
The prolific Aguero, who has scored 19 goals this season, is facing a spell out after suffering a knee injury against Everton at the weekend.
Key midfielder Yaya Toure is also suspended while Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Stevan Jovetic need to prove their fitness.
It makes the task all the more daunting but Zabaleta is not fazed by the challenge.
The 29-year-old said: “Confidence is high at the moment and that is what we need to play against Roma and win.”
Meanwhile Patrick Vieira believes City’s new £200 million (€254m) training complex will help the club attract the best young players in the world — starting with the city itself.
The Premier League champions have been based at the state-of-the-art City Football Academy since October, but officially opened the doors yesterday at a glitzy ceremony attended by club greats and British Chancellor George Osborne.
Vieira, who runs City’s elite development squad, spent his playing days at the likes of Arsenal, Juventus and Inter Milan, but believes his new workplace puts the rest firmly in the shade.
And with competition for the brightest young players increasingly stiff among European football’s biggest teams, he thinks City are now at the head of the queue.
Fans of neighbours Manchester United, though, might bristle at his suggestion that local prospects now face an “easy choice” when it comes to their career path.
“When we started training here with the boys I looked around and said ‘how amazing’. I think this is one of the best, if not the best, facilities in the world,” he said of the 80-acre base that was previously a polluted brownfield site.
“If we go into the market and we compete to bring young players or first team players in, having a facility like this can only help.
“When you are a young, talented player from Manchester — or worldwide — you want the best possible facilities to challenge and improve yourself.
“(You want) the club that will give you the best chance because at that age you dream about being a first-team player and I think when you look at these facilities, that will be an easy choice.
“You can’t compare this to any other. Arsenal was really good, Inter was really good, but this training facility takes it to a different level.”
The complex is connected to the Etihad Stadium by bridge and houses all of the club’s teams, from age-group sides to men’s and women’s senior squads — a total in excess of 450 individuals weekly. The first team will stay on site the night before home matches, while Vieira’s elite development squad and Manchester City Women will play at an integrated 7,000-capacity stadium.