Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola admitted it was a tough pill to swallow after his side fell victim to a miraculous comeback against Real Madrid.
City appeared all set to book their ticket to Paris for an all-English final against Premier League title rivals Liverpool when Riyad Mahrez gave them a 1-0 lead in the 73rd minute on Wednesday in Madrid, pulling them away 5-3 over the two legs.
Jack Grealish saw a shot blocked on the line and then another effort saved by Thibaut Courtois as City threatened to runaway with it, their place in a second straight Champions League finally seemingly secured.
But as Los Blancos threw numbers forward in desperation, they found a lifeline when Karim Benzema was able to find Rodrygo at the edge of the six-yard box, setting up a thrilling finish.
Incredibly, just 91 seconds later Rodrygo got on the end of another cross, flicked on by Marco Asensio, to head home and pull Madrid level on aggregate.
The Madrid forward nearly made it a hat-trick in the 93rd minute, forcing a save from Ederson to take things into extra-time, in which a Benzema penalty would send the Spanish giants, 13-time European champions, through at City’s expense.
“VAAAAAAAMOSSSSSSSSSSS!” #APorLa14 pic.twitter.com/luYisVb4YC
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) May 4, 2022
Speaking to BT Sport after the crushing result, Guardiola said it was a cruel feeling to come so close before ultimately falling short. Indeed, City did not face a single shot on target until Rodrygo netted Madrid’s first in the 90th minute.
“Yeah, we were close. We were close – but in the end, we could not reach [the final],” he said.
“It’s simple – in the first half, we didn’t have game. We were not good enough, but we didn’t suffer much.
“After we scored the goal we were better, we found our tempo, our game, and the players were comfortable on the pitch.
“The last 10 minutes they attacked and attacked, and you suffer, it didn’t happen. In that moment you can say okay, they were 10-15 minutes completely attacking, we would not survive – this was not the case.
“They put a lot of players in the box – [Eder] Militao, with Rodrygo, with Vinicius Jr, with Benzema, with Asensio – all of them, and with crosses, they score two goals.
“We didn’t suffer much – we didn’t play our best – but these moments in finals, the players feel the pressure. We were close. Football is unpredictable, it’s a game like this, and sometimes you have to accept it.”
Guardiola acknowledged there were some heartbroken players after the result, but knows they will need to move on quickly and re-focus on the Premier League title race. With four games to go, City hold a one-point lead over quadruple-chasing Liverpool.
“Yes [the players are crushed), I mean, we were close to reaching the final of the Champions League,” he added.
“We need some time to process that, then come back with our people at home for the last few games we have.”
Guardiola has now suffered an exit at the semi-final stage of the Champions League on six separate occasions as a manager, tying him level with Jose Mourinho.
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