Pep Guardiola salutes ‘incredible’ players after reaching Champions League final

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Andy Hampson, PA
·4-min read
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Pep Guardiola saluted his “incredible” players after Manchester City produced a superb performance to reach their first Champions League final.

Riyad Mahrez struck in each half as the Premier League leaders beat French champions Paris St Germain 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium to complete a 4-1 aggregate success in their semi-final.

City manager Guardiola said: “We beat a team that knocked out Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

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“We struggled early on but were much better in the second half. It was an incredible, huge victory for us.

“What the players have done this season is incredible in the toughest year for everyone. Being so close to winning the Premier League and in final of the Champions League is so good.”

City will now play the winners of the other semi-final between Chelsea and Real Madrid in the final in Istanbul later this month.

Their progress is the culmination of a long journey for the club since their takeover by Sheikh Mansour in 2008.

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Guardiola, who took the reins in 2016, said the victory belonged to a long list of contributors.

He said: “My first words are for the players who didn’t play. I know how tough it is.

“My second are for our owners, chairman, all the people from Abu Dhabi. Then the players who played before for us – Colin Bell, Mike Summerbee.

“Then the guys that helped to take the club to another level – Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Sergio (Aguero), who is still here. Many players helped us to be at this stage, want to share it with them. Without them it would not possible.”

Manchester City v Paris Saint-Germain – UEFA Champions League – Semi Final – Second Leg – Etihad Stadium
Riyad Mahrez scored two goals in his side’s victory (Martin Rickett/PA)

The only shame for City was the absence of any fans in the ground as Covid-19 restrictions continue, but a large gathering of them certainly made their presence felt outside before the game.

The City coaches were cheered into the stadium and blue flares were lit as hundreds of supporters lined the road leading to the stadium.

“It was so weird, a semi-final of the Champions League in an empty stadium,” said Guardiola, whose side will hope to wrap up the Premier League title on Saturday.

“This achievement requires having our people here, but of course we know what has happened.

“The club belongs to the people, that’s for sure. I’m pretty sure they’re so proud.”

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City took a firm grip on the tie when Mahrez opened the scoring after 11 minutes and the Algerian applied the killer blow just after the hour.

Prior to that PSG had created a number of chances as they looked to turn the tie around but they lost their discipline in the latter stages. Angel Di Maria was sent off for a petulant stamp on Fernandinho and there was a further flurry of yellow cards.

Mahrez told BT Sport: “We didn’t start well again. We got the goal and then we were more composed.

“We played very well in the second half. We could’ve scored more. They then lost their nerve and started kicking us. They got the red card and then it was more comfortable.

“When you play in a semi in the Champions League you have to be solid, everyone has to contribute defensively. We were very solid. We didn’t concede much and that’s why we’re in the final.”

PSG tempers threatened to boil over in a tetchy finish and two of their side later accused referee Bjorn Kuipers of swearing at players in the confusion.

Manchester City v Paris Saint-Germain – UEFA Champions League – Semi Final – Second Leg – Etihad Stadium
Mauricio Pochettino admitted he was disappointed for PSG’s fans (Martin Rickett/PA)

Midfielder Ander Herrera said on RMC: “The referee told (Leandro) Paredes to f*** off. You speak about respect but if he’d said that to him, it would be three or four matches (ban).

Team-mate Marco Verratti also said: “The referee said ‘f*** you’ twice to me, but I’d never say that (to him) because if I did I’d get 10 matches (ban). But if we’ve gone out, it’s not the referee’s fault.”

Manager Mauricio Pochettino backed his players but also stressed this was not an excuse. He said: “We need to believe what they are telling us but the most important thing is we are not in the final.

“If something is there, maybe UEEA will investigate the situation but it is not an excuse to use.

“I think we all feel disappointed. We played well at the start but at this level you need a bit of luck to go for you. The team gave everything and I feel proud for that.

“We are disappointed for our fans, we gave everything but could not get what we wanted to get.”