I’m so sorry Ster­ling apol­o­gises for baf­fling penalty in City romp

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - Luke Ed­wards at the Eti­had Sta­dium

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

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