Pep Guardiola admitted defeat was tough to take after Real Madrid dramatically snatched a place in the Champions League final from his Manchester City side.
The Spanish giants produced an astonishing late fightback in their semi-final second leg at the Bernabeu Stadium on Wednesday to win 3-1 on the night and prevail 6-5 on aggregate after extra time.
City had gone 5-3 ahead overall after Riyad Mahrez scored the first goal of the night after 73 minutes but Rodrygo replied with a quickfire double in the closing moments of normal time.
Karim Benzema then settled a compelling tie with his third goal of it, from the penalty spot, in the fifth minute of extra time.
The result sent Real through to a final date with Liverpool in Paris later this month and prolonged the long wait of City, last year’s runners-up, for European glory.
City boss Guardiola said: “I have had defeats in the Champions League, I had tough defeats at Barcelona when we could not reach the final.
“But it is tough for us, I cannot deny that. We were so close to the Champions League final.
“We didn’t play well in the first half, we didn’t find our game. The second half was much better and after the goal, we had control.
“We found our game but unfortunately we could not finish. The players gave everything. We were so close.”
Real have enjoyed a remarkable run through this season’s competition having also come from behind to beat Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea in the knockout stages.
“It has happened many times in their history,” said Guardiola, whose side must now regroup ahead of a crucial Premier League game against Newcastle this weekend.
“This will have a positive impact on the Real Madrid players but I don’t know about us really. We didn’t suffer much until they scored, but we didn’t play our best.”
Ancelotti: The history of Real keeps us going
Real, who are bidding for a record-extending 14th European crown, beat Liverpool in the 2018 final.
The same two sides also met in the 1981 showpiece, which was also played in Paris and won by the English side.
Real manager Carlo Ancelotti, who last year was managing Liverpool’s neighbours Everton, said: “The game was close to being finished but we managed to find the last energy we had.
“We played a good game against a strong rival. When we were able to equalise, we had a psychological advantage in extra time.
“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.
“I am happy to be in the final, in Paris against another great team. It will be a fantastic game for football.”
Analysis: How do Man City recover from this?
Sky Sports’ Adam Bate
The margins were fine, desperately fine. Jack Grealish had two chances. He did well for both. If the ball had ricocheted back off Phil Foden at a slightly different angle for the first chance. If Thibaut Courtois had been wearing smaller studs for the second. If…
What followed was impossible to explain, a freak occurrence but for the fact that Real Madrid keep doing it. This was their night but what is left of Manchester City’s season? That is a thought that will be far away in the Spanish capital but will need to return quickly.
Pep Guardiola will be bereft. Another chance missed when he appeared to have a team capable of winning this Champions League, ending his own 11-year wait for the biggest prize in European club football. Unlike some of the previous near misses, he played it straight.
There were no shock omissions, his set up neither too aggressive as in 2018 nor too cautious as in 2019. He had tweaked the system and been eliminated by Lyon in 2020. He had surprised some by asking Ilkay Gundogan to do Rodri’s job in the following year’s final.
Here, his substitutions, not Carlo Ancelotti’s, almost made the difference. Grealish was oh so close to being the hero off the bench. If that had happened, City might have been narrow favourites to beat Liverpool in Paris, just as they are to win the Premier League. If…
Instead, Guardiola must lift his players, refocus them in the knowledge that the trophy that has again eluded them – the one they craved – is gone for another year. All they can do now is maintain their standards, hoping a domestic title will sate them. Easier said than done.