Pep Guardiola bemoaned VAR’s failure to rule out Fernando Llorente’s decisive goal for Tottenham as Manchester City’s quadruple bid was shattered by a “cruel” Champions League quarter-final exit on Wednesday.
Guardiola’s side were closing in on a place in the semi-finals after staging a thrilling comeback to lead 4-2 in the second leg at the Etihad Stadium.
But Tottenham striker Llorente bundled home in the 73rd minute via a combination of his arm and hip, with VAR allowing the goal on review despite City’s appeals for handball.
Guardiola could be seen gesturing for handball while the VAR check was made, but his protest was in vain.
Adding to the City manager’s frustration, Raheem Sterling appeared to have scored what would have been the winner in the final seconds of stoppage-time, only for the goal to be ruled out by VAR for offside against Sergio Aguero.
“I support VAR but maybe from one angle Fernando Llorente’s goal is handball, maybe from the referee’s angle it is not,” Guardiola said.
“I watched the action and the people from above decided it (City’s disallowed goal) was offside.
“In the moment we celebrated and we were so close to the semi-finals.
“It is cruel but it is what it is and we have to accept it.
Despite the painful end to City’s attempt to win all four major trophies this season, Guardiola insisted he was proud of the effort put in by his team and their supporters.
“We missed a penalty in the first leg but I am so proud of the players and the fans,” he said.
“I have never heard noise like that since I have been in Manchester, but football is unpredictable.”
– ‘Unbelievable’ –
City now have to focus on retaining the title, with Tottenham their next opponents in the Premier League on Saturday.
“We have a lot of games from the league and FA Cup final. Today is tough and tomorrow will be tough too but the day after we will be ready,” Guardiola said.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men will return to Manchester this weekend on a high after one of the greatest results in the club’s history.
Tottenham’s only other semi-final appearance in Europe’s elite club competition came in its previous guise as the European Cup in 1961-62.
Their semi-final date with Ajax will be Tottenham’s first European semi-final since the 1984 UEFA Cup.
It is a personal triumph for Pochettino, who hasn’t signed a single player in the last two transfer windows, yet managed to knock out one of the richest clubs in the world.
Saluting his side, who went through without injured striker Harry Kane following his injury in the first leg, Pochettino said: “It was unbelievable — the way it finished. I am so happy, so proud.
“My players are heroes to be here. I am so happy for them, so happy for the fans.”
Admitting he was bewildered by the astonishing finale with Sterling’s disallowed goal, Pochettino, who ended the night dancing on the pitch with his jacket off, added: “In a moment many things happened in your head, the disappointment was massive but they changed the decision.
“That is why we love football. Today we showed great character and great personality it was an unbelievable game.”
© Agence France-Presse