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Zabaleta baffled by refereeing as City exit Champions League No ‘ideal opponent,’ admits PSG’s Blanc

BARCELONA, March 13, (AFP): Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta claimed he didn’t know why he had been sent off as his side were dumped out of the Champions League by Barcelona in a 2-1 defeat at the Camp Nou which saw the Catalans progress 4-1 on aggregate. The Argentine was dismissed for a second yellow card with the score at 1-0 with 12 minutes remaining after City had a strong penalty appeal waved away when Edin Dzeko appeared to have been felled by Gerard Pique. Vincent Kompany and Dani Alves rounded off the scoring in the final couple of minutes, but the damage to the visitors’ chances of going through had already been done as Lionel Messi killed off the tie with the opening goal 23 minutes from time. “I don’t know why he sent me off. It was a clear penalty and the referee is two metres away from the incident,” Zabaleta said.

“There was a clear foul on Dzeko too in the build-up to Barca’s first goal, which he gave as a free kick to Barcelona. “In the heat of the moment I ran towards him, but I didn’t show any lack of respect because I couldn’t say anything given I was on a yellow card.” Defeat means City bow out of a second competition in four days having suffered an embarrassing 2-1 defeat to Championship side Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup on Sunday. However, Zabaleta said they had shown enough in their performance at the Camp Nou to suggest they stand a real chance of winning the Premier League title for the second time in three years. “It was a very even game. They had good moments and so did we, but the team that makes the most of their chances is the one that deserves to win, so in that sense it is a fair result,” he said.
“We are obviously hurt to go out because we are a team that aspires to win every competition, but that is football.

“Now we need to reduce the gap in the Premier League. We are nine points off Chelsea but we have three games in hand.” There could be more bad news to come for City as their top scorer this season, Sergio Aguero, had to be replaced at halftime due to hamstring strain and will undergo a scan.
“I felt something in my left leg in the run with Messi at the start of the game,” said the Argentine. “I tried to continue, but at halftime I didn’t want to run any more risks.” City assistant boss Ruben Cousillas said he was hopeful the injury would not keep Aguero out for much of the title run in. “It is still too early to say how long he could be out. Apparently it is nothing serious,” he said.

Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc has urged his side to go as far as they possibly can in the Champions League but admitted that there will be no such thing as an ideal opponent in the quarter-finals. The Ligue 1 leaders came from behind to beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 at the Parc des Princes in the second leg of their last 16 tie on Wednesday to go through to the next round 6-1 on aggregate, Marquinhos and Ezequiel Lavezzi getting their goals on the night. PSG are now certain to at least match their performance in last season’s competition, when they lost on away goals to Barcelona in the last eight, but Blanc has urged his men to go that step further. However, with Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona already through, next week’s draw is unlikely to be kind on the French title-holders.
“It’s not a bonus” to be in the quarter-finals, said Blanc. “We need to prepare well, be very professional, but I’m not worried about that. I think the players will respond to the challenge.

“We have an end to the season that could become very exciting. First of all we are happy, satisfied, but we have won nothing. At the end of the season what counts is trophies.” PSG are eight points clear of Monaco at the top of Ligue 1 and are through to the League Cup final, where they will face Lyon next month. But while they are on course to win a domestic trophy double, going all the way in the Champions League will be a huge challenge. “I think first of all the objective is to go as far as possible. Ok, we have done as well as last year, but you want to win every tie,” said Blanc. “There are teams who have a legitimacy in the Champions League in terms of experience that we don’t have, but I think the consideration that our opponents have for us has increased.

“They know we are a club who can go far. We will wait for the draw. Hopefully we can get a bit of luck in the draw, but the ideal opponent does not exist.” Blanc was disappointed with his team’s performance on the night, as they conceded an early goal to Sidney Sam before Salvatore Sirigu had to save a Simon Rolfes penalty with the scores at 1-1. He gave a guarded response following comments by club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi on French television after the match that he would be offered a new contract. “I expected more. The manner was not great but the level in the Champions League is a lot higher than the French championship. I am still very happy.

“I didn’t expect that question,” he added about his contractual situation. “I hope the president’s comments will be verified in the coming weeks.” Blanc, who signed on an initial two-year deal last summer, will now prepare his side for Sunday’s home clash with Saint-Etienne, while Leverkusen could hardly have asked for a worse game to follow their exit from Europe. The Werkself go to runaway Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich, where they must try to end a run of six defeats and a draw in their last seven matches to get their bid to qualify for next season’s Champions League back on track.
 

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