Manchester City are left nursing yet more Champions League heartbreak after Real Madrid produced the most astonishing of a growing list of incredible comebacks.
Pep Guardiola’s side were moments away from booking a second successive final appearance, and setting up an all-English showpiece against rivals Liverpool in Paris, when Real caught them with a stunning sucker punch.
Leading 1-0 on the night and 5-3 on aggregate after Riyad Mahrez’s 73rd-minute strike in a tense semi-final second leg at the Bernabeu, City were rocked when Brazilian Rodrygo struck a quickfire double with 90 minutes on the clock.
That sent an epic tie into extra time and City never recovered from the shock, conceding again soon after when Ruben Dias felled Karim Benzema and the prolific Frenchman stepped up to convert the resulting penalty.
It meant yet another near miss for City and Guardiola after last year’s runners-up finish, while further enhancing 13-times champion Real’s mystique after their fightbacks against Paris St Germain and Chelsea in the previous rounds.
“We were close,” said Guardiola, whose wait to add to the two Champions League successes he enjoyed as Barcelona manager in 2009 and 2011 goes on. “It is tough for us, we cannot deny that.
“We were so close to arriving in the Champions League final.
“We didn’t play good in the first half. We didn’t find our game but that is normal in this competition.
“The second half was much better. After the goal we had control, we found our game but unfortunately we could not finish when we were close.”
Mahrez’s effort gave City a two-goal cushion for the fourth time in the tie but, as in last week’s classic first encounter at the Etihad Stadium, they missed chances to add to it.
This time they were unfortunate when substitute Jack Grealish had a shot cleared off the line by Ferland Mendy with three minutes remaining.
The defeat and the manner of it will be a shattering blow to a side with such high expectations but they need to recover quickly ahead of a crunch Premier League game against Newcastle on Sunday.
City lead the table by just one point from Liverpool ahead of both sides’ 35th fixtures this weekend.
“We need time now, one or two days, but we will rise,” said Guardiola. “We have to do it.”
Real’s victory set up a repeat of a final played twice before. Liverpool beat the Spanish giants in 1981, also in Paris, but Real triumphed in Kyiv as they claimed their record 13th success four years ago.
Real’s manager Carlo Ancelotti, who was in charge of Liverpool’s neighbors Everton a year ago, has now reached a record five finals.
Reflecting on his side’s latest amazing recovery, the Italian said: “The game was close to being finished but we managed to find the last energy we had.
“I cannot say we are used to living this kind of life, but what happened here 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.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.