Pablo Zabaleta insists Manchester City can still advance to the last eight of the UEFA Champions League, despite a 2-0 defeat to Barcelona on Tuesday.
Having progressed to the knockout stages of the tournament at the third time of asking, Blues fans could be forgiven for cursing their luck when they were paired with the Spanish champions in the last 16. However, due to the form of Manuel Pellegrini’s side this season, optimism was high amongst the home fans at the Etihad Stadium for the first leg.
But their hard work in keeping the Catalonians at bay was undone on 54 minutes, when Martin Demichelis brought down Lionel Messi. Although replays of the incident showed the contact was outside the area, it was a tight call and referee Jonas Eriksson not only pointed to the spot, but also sent the Argentine defender off. Barca’s magical number 10 stepped up to convert the penalty, and in the dying moments, fullback Dani Alves doubled the scoreline.
City must now go to the Camp Nou next month and try and achieve what on papers seems almost impossible, especially as Barca have also rediscovered their form domestically over the past couple of weeks after overcoming a rare home defeat to Valencia. However, Zabaleta remains in upbeat mood ahead of the return, insisting the Blues can still progress to the last eight.
“Nothing is impossible,” said the defender, who was one of the City players who protested the penalty decision. “Now we need to play another 90 minutes and it will be very difficult, but nothing is impossible. We need to have some belief and do better in the Camp Nou. We still have 90 minutes to try to do something and we should go there and try as hard as we can to do something.”
The usually cool-headed Manuel Pellegrini, meanwhile, could face a UEFA rap after publicly berating the referee in his post-match press conference. The Chilean felt the Swedish official was favourable towards the Spanish side, having previously erred against them when in charge of a Champions League last 16 clash against Italian giants Milan two years ago.
“I think in the whole match we didn’t have a referee with impartiality to both teams,” he told Sky Sports. “He decided the game. He decided the game because it was a foul by (Sergio) Busquets on (Jesus) Navas. The referee was three metres away and he didn’t blow the whistle and after that the foul from Demichelis is outside the box, it’s not a penalty. Important mistakes against a great team like Barcelona make it difficult to win. I think it is a mistake to nominate a referee that has had problems with Barcelona. Maybe he made mistakes in Milan.”