Xavi: ‘Disaster’ of a referee killed Barcelona’s UCL hopes

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández fumed about the decision to send Ronald Araújo off as his side were eliminated from the Champions League after Tuesday’s 4-1 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain at the Olympic Stadium.

Xavi said Romanian referee Istvan Kovacs was a “disaster” and that showing a red card to Araujo for a last-man challenge on Bradley Barcola with Barça leading 1-0 on the night in the 29th minute, 4-2 on aggregate, killed the quarterfinal.

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A Kylian Mbappé brace and goals from Ousmane Dembélé, on his return to Barcelona, and Vitinha saw PSG turn the tie around, sealing a 6-4 aggregate win and setting up a semifinal against Borussia Dortmund.

“We are annoyed,” Xavi said. “The red card marked the tie. We were well organised 11 vs. 11. It completely changed everything. For me, it’s too much to send [Araújo] off there.

“The referee was really bad. I told him, he was a disaster. He killed the tie. I don’t like speaking about referees but it has to be said. I don’t understand it.

“It’s not good going down to 10 players and from that point on it’s another game. For as much as we speak [about the match], the red card marks everything.”

Xavi was also sent off in the second half for protesting the decision not to give a penalty for a Marquinhos challenge on Ilkay Gündogan, with goalkeeping coach Jose Ramon de la Fuente also dismissed as Barça lost their cool.

“That was an error by me, it was my fault,” added Xavi, accepting responsibility for his expulsion.

Barça came into Tuesday’s game with a 3-2 lead from the first leg. They opened up a two-goal advantage in the tie when Raphinha turned home in the 12th minute after brilliant work from Lamine Yamal.

However, the game swung just before the half-hour mark when Araújo received his marching orders after being adjudged to have pulled Barcola to the ground as he ran through on goal just outside the box.

Dembélé and Vitinha scored either side of half-time to draw PSG level in the tie, with Mbappé nudging them ahead from the penalty spot in the 61st minute after João Cancelo fouled Dembélé.

Barça missed chances to level on aggregate before Mbappé sealed the win on the counter-attack in the 89th minute.

“We had the chance to equalise with [Gündogan] hitting the post and could even have made it 2-0 before the red card with [Robert Lewandowski’s] shot which went just over,” Xavi added.

“It’s just a shame that the hard work of an entire season ends because of one refereeing decision. I would have liked it to be 11 vs. 11 for the whole game. It’s an unnecessary red.”

PSG coach Luis Enrique said he believed his side would have progressed to the semifinal even if Araújo had stayed on the pitch.

“I don’t speak about referees,” he said. “I have not seen it back, I just saw it live. In my time as a coach, I have never judged referees. I focus on what I can control.

“We started the game really well and the feeling when they score, after a brilliant piece of play from Lamine Yamal, is a bit like the first leg. We didn’t deserve to lose last week and we didn’t deserve to be behind tonight.

“But the faith and the belief from the players was exceptional. From there we grew into the game. Obviously the red card is a factor, but you still have to know how to play these games and not make mistakes.

“I honestly think without the red card, we still win, although I can’t prove that.”

It was a tricky night for Luis Enrique in other ways as he returned to the club he played for and later coached, winning the LaLiga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble as Barça manager in 2015.

He was also in charge of Barça when they mounted a comeback against PSG by beating them 6-1 in 2017. Tuesday’s win represented the first time the French side have ever progressed in the Champions League after losing the first leg, although Luis Enrique wouldn’t pick between the two comebacks.

“The best feeling in football is making fans happy,” he said. “That is unmatchable. I wouldn’t choose between the two comebacks. I just hope this serves for more than 2017 [when Barça lost in the next round] and that we make the final now.

“Honestly, it has been so difficult to play against Barça, though, sentimentally and emotionally. I hope I don’t have to face them many times in my career.”

PSG will turn their attention back to Ligue 1 this weekend. They travel to Lyon with a 10-point lead at the top of the table, while they also have the French Cup final to come as they target a treble.

Barça, meanwhile, travel to the Santiago Bernabeú to face Real Madrid in El Clásico. They need to win to keep their slim title hopes alive, with Madrid eight points clear and seven games to be played.