Barcelona fans, play­ers and coach stay pos­i­tive af­ter Cham­pi­ons League exit

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

There were no boos or jeers at the Camp Nou af­ter Barcelona’s elim­i­na­tion to Ju­ven­tus in the quar­ter­fi­nals of the Cham­pi­ons League.

In­stead, the crowd of more than 96,000 chanted loudly in ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the team’s ef­fort in try­ing to over­turn a 3-0 first­leg loss.

Play­ers and coach Luis En­rique also had more praise than crit­i­cism af­ter Wed­nes­day’s 0-0 draw kept Barcelona from reach­ing the semi­fi­nals.

“We leave dis­ap­pointed with the re­sult but I have very lit­tle to crit­i­cize,” Luis En­rique said. “We fought un­til the end. We gave ev­ery­thing we had.”

Luis En­rique blamed the team’s elim­i­na­tion on the lack­lus­ter per­for­mance in the first half of the match in Italy, when Barcelona was out­played and con­ceded two goals that left Ju­ven­tus in con­trol.

“We had a very poor first half in Turin and that was very costly,” Luis En­rique said. “I’ll keep re­mem­ber­ing that first half at Ju­ven­tus Sta­dium. That kept us from con­tin­u­ing in the Cham­pi­ons League.”

Ju­ven­tus added an­other goal in the sec­ond half in Italy to leave Barcelona in what proved to be an im­pos­si­ble po­si­tion.

But fans were still hope­ful of a come­back af­ter they saw Barcelona over­turn a 4-0 first-leg loss to Paris Saint-Ger­main in the Round of 16, win­ning 6-1 at the Camp Nou with three goals af­ter the 87th minute.

The crowd of 96,290 that packed the Camp Nou was be­hind the team from the start and didn’t stop even af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle.

“Very few times I’ve seen the Camp Nou like this af­ter a loss,” de­fender Ger­ard Pique said. “It makes me proud. It was a tough de­feat but it needs to be noted that the fans fin­ished the game chant­ing like that.”

Barcelona couldn’t pro­duce an­other his­toric come­back, thanks to Ju­ven­tus’ stout de- fense and the poor fin­ish­ing of its at­tack­ing trio of Lionel Messi, Ney­mar and Luis Suarez.

“We cre­ated a lot of chances but couldn’t get the shots on tar­get,” said Luis En­rique, who made his fi­nal Cham­pi­ons League ap­pear­ance with Barcelona be­fore leav­ing the club at the end of the sea­son. “It would have been fair if we had won tonight (Wed­nes­day), but Ju­ven­tus de­served to ad­vance.”

Barcelona had de­feated the Ital­ian cham­pi­ons in the 2015 fi­nal to win its fifth Euro­pean ti­tle.

The Cata­lan club is still fight­ing for the ti­tle in the Span­ish league and in the Copa del Rey this sea­son.

It has a de­ci­sive league game against Real Madrid at the San­ti­ago Bern­abeu Sta­dium on Sun­day, when it can erase the ri­val’s three-point lead en­ter­ing the fi­nal rounds. It will play the Copa fi­nal against Alaves in May.

“It’s a dif­fi­cult mo­ment but we have to stand up and keep work­ing,” Suarez said.

Barcelona will be with­out the sus­pended Ney­mar against Madrid at the Bern­abeu, where it has won two of the last three games against Madrid, in­clud­ing 4-0 last sea­son.

Ney­mar, who led Barcelona with two goals and two as­sists in the come­back against PSG, was in tears af­ter the game against Ju­ven­tus. He was con­soled by former team­mate and fel­low Brazil­ian Dani Alves, who now plays for Ju­ven­tus.

“I have some mixed feel­ings,” said Alves, who played for Barcelona from 2008-16. “It’s an odd sen­sa­tion to see my friends sad like that. It hurts, but it’s part of the pro­fes­sion.”

Barcelona’s Jordi Alba, Ney­mar and Ser­gio Bus­quets, from left to right, leave the pitch at the end of the Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter­fi­nal be­tween Barcelona and Ju­ven­tus Photo: AP

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