I’m so sorry Sterling apologises for baffling penalty in City romp
When Raheem Sterling ran clear of the Shakhtar Donetsk defence, steadied himself to shoot, kicked the turf and fell over it was impossible not to laugh, yet the ramifications were serious.
Everybody seemed to know Sterling had fallen over his own feet, even he looked embarrassed – as well he should, given how clumsy he had looked – but when the referee Viktor Kassai pointed to the spot there was a moral dilemma.
Given City’s issues with fair play recently, it would have been nice if Sterling had owned up. If he had walked over to the Hungarian official and told him what had happened. It was the right thing to do, even if you can cling to the argument that it is not up to a player to tell a referee he has made a mistake.
Then again, as much as you would have liked to have seen Sterling’s sportsmanship shine through, it would have been equally good if the assistant referee behind the goal had helped. There is no point having extra officials if they cannot even spot a player has fallen over and there was nobody close enough to touch him.
Everyone stayed silent, the supporters sniggered, as did Pep Guardiola and his coaching staff. Shakhtar’s players were so incredulous most of them laughed as well rather than complain. Gabriel Jesus ignored the farce and scored from the penalty spot to put City two goals up and in complete control.
City did not crush Shakhtar because of that ludicrous penalty decision, they are not on the brink of qualifying for the knockout stage because of a ridiculous mistake by a referee, but it once again underlines why VAR should be used at the highest level.
To his credit, Sterling did apologise to both the referee and Shakhtar’s players after the game, but the damage had been done.
“I went to chip the ball and I don’t know what happened next,” Sterling said. “I ended up on the floor and turned around. I don’t think I felt contact. I hit the floor and scuffed the floor. Apologies to the ref and apologies to Shakhtar.”
City manager Pep Guardiola said: “We realised it was not a penalty straight away. Raheem could have said something, but last season Liverpool and [James] Milner could say the same for the pass for the second goal in the 44th minute [in the quarter-final second leg]. That was a legal goal.
“We don’t really like to score a goal in that situation because it was clear. We know what the situation is with VAR, it really should not be hard to ask someone to look at that for four or five seconds, say it’s not a penalty and move on.”
From the start City slowly, gradually, but relentlessly increased the pressure on the Shakhtar defence until the breakthrough came. It took them just over 10 minutes.
When Riyad Mahrez collected the ball on the right side of the area, the Algerian was marked by three defenders, but that did not worry him. Mahrez turned one way, then the next, he dummied, he feinted until one extravagant change of direction left all three of them flatfooted and he was able to cut the ball back for David Silva to tap home inside the six-yard box. So simple, so devastating.
When you are this good, you do not need any help from the officials. Sterling must have felt awkward about what had happened, but redeemed himself with a wonderful solo goal at the start of the second half, wriggling away from two defenders before curling a shot into the far corner.
It was easy after that. City scored their fourth when Taras Stepanenko
bundled over David Silva and Jesus converted his second penalty of the evening. A fifth goal always seemed likely and when Ilkay Gundogan picked out an unmarked Mahrez, he slotted the ball through the legs of the goalkeeper. Jesus completed his hat-trick in stoppage time when he lobbed Andriy Pyatov.
“I’m a very happy manager,” added Guardiola. “It was a really impressive performance against a strong opponent. My only worry is that we are going to start thinking this is easy.”
For Shakhtar, this was a sobering night, but manager Paulo Fonseca believes they lost to a team that may well win the Champions League. “Of course, it was not a penalty,” said Fonseca. “But that is not why we lost the match. City are an amazing team, a machine. They can win the Champions League for sure.”
Fall guy: Raheem Sterling trips himself up (above), goes to ground (top) and earns a bizarre penalty; (right) the forward scores later with a fine strike