By Andrew Warshaw
May 5 – It’s happened again, only this time it’s scarcely believable. Just like Paris St Germain, Manchester City are still chasing the most coveted prize in European club football after being knocked out in the semi-finals of the Champions League by a Real Madrid team who yet again defied the odds to take their place in the final against Liverpool on May 28.
Not once, but twice Real struck right at the death at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night through substitute Rodrygo to level the tie on aggregate – and then snatched victory in extra time with a Karim Benzema penalty to leave City, who were cruising towards another all-English final, shellshocked and shattered.
Real’s incredible 3-1 win to advance 6-5 on aggregate came after they staged similar rousing comebacks against both PSG and defending champions Chelsea in the previous two rounds.
“It is tough for us, I cannot deny,” said devastated City boss Pep Guardiola who now has to somehow rally his troops to keep ahead of Liverpool in the Premier League race. “We were so close.”
“We didn’t play our best, but it is normal, a semi-final, the players feel the pressure and wanting to do it. Football is unpredictable, it is a game like this. We have to accept it.”
City have won five Premier League titles since their Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008. But the Champions League – the trophy that really puts you on the map globally – has always eluded them. Just like it has at star-studded PSG, also bankrolled by Middle East cash yet still unable get over the line when it comes to the prize the club craves most.
To put Real’s latest escape act into context, they did not have a single shot on target before their astonishing late rally. And, remember, this is a team who lost to unheralded Moldovan side Sheriff Tiraspol in the group stage.
Yet now, incredibly, they are just a game away from clinching their 14th European Cup/Champions League title.
Carlo Ancelotti, who becomes the first manager to reach five Champions League finals, was almost lost for words.
“I cannot say we are used to living this kind of life, but what happened tonight happened against Chelsea and also against Paris. If you have to say why, it is the history of this club that helps us to keep going when it seems that we are gone,” said the Italian.
Rodrygo, the hero of Madrid, added: “We were losing the match, we were dead and what happened happened. With this shirt, we learn to always fight to the end. We were almost dead but with my first goal we started to believe.”
Guardiola has won the Champions League twice as a manager – at Barcelona in 2008-09 and 2010-11 – but since he joined City in 2016, they have been knocked out in the quarter-finals three times and reached their first final last season, losing to Chelsea.
While Liverpool can still win an unprecedented quadruple, retaining their domestic crown has suddenly become City’s last remaining hope of silverware this season.
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