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Pep Guardiola just after the Champions League semifinal in Madrid, Spain. Picture: CARL RECINE/REUTERS
Pep Guardiola just after the Champions League semifinal in Madrid, Spain. Picture: CARL RECINE/REUTERS

London — Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola accepted defeat on Wednesday after an astonishing comeback sent Real Madrid into a Champions League final with Liverpool and dashed his side’s hopes for another season.

The Premier League leaders were 1-0 up when Real substitute Rodrygo equalised in the last minute of normal time and grabbed a second a minute later.

Karim Benzema then scored from the penalty spot in extra time for a 3-1 win, with Real bound for the Paris final 6-5 on aggregate.

“We were close. We were close. But in the end we could not reach it,” Guardiola told BT Sport after the prize slipped through his fingers again.

“In the first half we did not have game, we were not good enough, but we did not suffer much. After we scored the goal we were better, we found our tempo and our game and the players were comfortable.

“They put a lot of players in the box, with Militao, Rodrygo, Vinicius, Benzema and they put in crosses and scored two goals.

“We didn’t play our best, but it is normal, a semifinal, the players feel the pressure and wanting to do it. Football is unpredictable, it is a game like this. We have to accept it.”

The European trophy is the one the Abu Dhabi-owned club, whose sole European club trophy remains the now-defunct Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970, yearns for.

In 2016 they lost in the semifinals to ultimate winners Real, and in 2018 and 2019 in the quarterfinals to domestic rivals Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur respectively.

French side Lyon knocked them out of the quarterfinals in 2020 and in last year’s final, City’s first in the Champions League, they lost 1-0 to Chelsea.

“Now we need to process that [defeat] and come back, with our people at home and the last four games we have,” said Guardiola of the Premier League challenge ahead, with City only a point clear of Liverpool.

“That feeling that happens in football sometimes, that has happened in history, when you are leading but you get to the end and you are being dominated, that didn’t happen to us.”

The Spanish coach last won the Champions League in the 2010/2011 season with Barcelona, failing to get his hands on the trophy with Bayern Munich and City.

Asked if this was his toughest European defeat, Guardiola said: “I’ve had defeats that were so tough, Barcelona against Chelsea when both games were exceptional and we could not reach the final and yes it’s tough for us, we cannot deny it.” 

Meanwhile, Spanish media heaped praise on Real Madrid.

“Real Madrid are out of this world,” Madrid-based AS said in its headline, accompanied by a picture of the squad celebrating in front of a section of the home crowd.

Sport newspaper simply went with “Incredible” after Real once again turned around a first-leg deficit after their last-16 win against Paris St Germain earlier in the competition.

Marca hailed it as the “greatest night in the history of the Bernabeu”.

“If PSG was already inexplicable, if Chelsea was already incredible, last night in Chamartin was, simply, the best night of a stadium that has seen this team in all colours and that is a lot to say,” read its lead story.

The Barcelona-based Mundo Deportivo described it as “Groundhog Day” while Catalan radio station RAC1 said “this is not football, it’s a paranormal phenomenon”.

Real will take on Liverpool in a rematch of the 2018 Champions League final at the Stade de France on May 28.

Reuters

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