Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola defended Lionel Messi after the Argentine star’s penalty miss that was being blamed for costing his team a place in the Champions League final.
Messi cut a disconsolate figure following his side’s agonising semi-final exit to Chelsea, who fought back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 on the night and claim a 3-2 aggregate victory. Arguably the turning point came in the second half when Messi smashed a penalty against the crossbar.
Had Messi converted Barcelona would have been 3-1 up and effectively assured of a place in the final against a Chelsea side reduced to 10 men following the dismissal of John Terry. Fernando Torres’ last-gasp equaliser, which came as Barcelona swarmed forward desperately in search of the goal that would seal the tie, shattered the Catalans’ hopes.
Guardiola, however, issued a vociferous defence of Messi, who has now failed to score in eight games against Chelsea.
“We’ve gotten to where we are today thanks to this kid,” said Guardiola. “More than ever I want to thank him for what he’s done. My admiration for him knows no limits. He’s daring, brave and plays fantastic in different conditions.
“He’s going to experience a few difficult hours now because he’s a competitive guy but this is what is beautiful about football. Sometimes you smile and sometimes it’s your turn to be sad.”
Guardiola said Barcelona’s concession of a goal from Ramires on the stroke of half-time had proved crucial. “I think that at 2-0, we believed we would do it, but at 2-1 it was bad for us. You have to praise Chelsea for their defensive display.”
Di Matteo ecstatic
Meanwhile, Roberto Di Matteo hailed the phenomenal spirit of his players.
“It was an incredible game,” said Di Matteo. “Ihe players deserved it. We’ve had a difficult season; they always seem to dig something special out when they need to. We had a little luck as well but to win the trophy, you need that.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2012.
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