BARCELONA, Spain, April 4 – AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic sparked controversy after his side’s Champions League elimination by Barcelona suggesting the holders receive a helping hand from referees at the Camp Nou.
However, Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola responded saying the achievement of reaching the competition’s semi final for the fifth consecutive time – emulating the feat of the great Real Madrid side in the late 1950’s – speaks for itself.
Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho says it is impossible to beat Barca at the Camp Nou and an angry Ibrahimovic, who spent a disappointing season with Barca during the 2009-10 campaign, claimed the same after the 3-1 defeat on Tuesday which followed a 0-0 draw at the San Siro in the first leg.
“We had managed to draw level and then a penalty was given again when the ball wasn’t even in play,” said Ibrahimovic.
“It was a very strange decision and ruined the game. Perhaps there was a push (the penalty was given by Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers in fact for Alessandro Nesta tugging on Sergio Busquets shirt) but if the ball isn’t in play then you cannot whistle.
“Barca do not need these kinds of decisions as we are talking about the best side in the world.
“I am starting to understand what Mourinho means when he talks about coming here to play against them. I have seen it at first hand now.”
Guardiola hit back at Ibrahimovic saying that the achievements of his side cannot be doubted.
“I’ll let Ibrahimovic’s coach decide on his comments but now it appears as though he has become friends of Mourinho,” remarked Guardiola acidly.
“If he says that it is thanks to the referees then fine but five times in the semi-finals is the response. We do our talking on the pitch.
“We fully deserved to go through as they had three shots and we had 21, and that was against an Italian side. If people were expecting six or seven goals then it doesn’t work like that.
“I feel the same about my players whether they had qualified for the next round or not because they have already achieved so much they do not need to do more to prove themselves to me.”
It was not a spectacular night of football like Barca’s 7-1 thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen in the last round where Lionel Messi bagged a record five goals.
The quarter-final tie was effectively decided by two first-half penalties converted by Messi, which saw him move on to 51 Champions League goals and at just 24 is the youngest to break the 50 landmark.
Messi also broke the record for goals scored in a Champions League campaign, his two goals on the night bringing his tally to 14 and breaking the previous total held by himself and Ruud van Nistelrooy of 12.
Messi may be the talisman but the success of the team as a whole under Guardiola has been unprecedented in recent years.
It has led to them being compared with the great sides of the past like Rinus Michels’ Ajax team or the AC Milan side of Arrigo Sacchi.
Not only have they qualified for five Champions League semi-finals on the trot but they have won two of the last three and won the last three la liga titles although it will be a tough task for them to retain that trophy this year lying six points adrift of Real Madrid.
Barca controlled the opening stages of the game and took the lead after a series of errors from Milan.
Massimo Ambrosini was dispossessed in midfield by Messi who tore into the area and then appeared to make the wrong decision in playing the ball back to Xavi.
Full-back Luca Antonini dispossessed the Spain international but then went through the back of Messi and the referee awarded the penalty which the Argentine despatched into the corner.
Milan equalised through Antonio Nocerino but then came the controversial penalty decision with the shirt tug by Nesta on Busquets as a corner was being delivered.
Messi stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way from 12 yards and then at the start of the second half Andres Iniesta put the game beyond Milan.