Atletico Madrid captain Gabi has admitted referee Nicola Rizzoli could have awarded Barcelona a late penalty, pushing their Champions League quarter-final second leg into extra time. The midfielder said he didn't know whether he was inside the area when he handled the ball, although TV replays proved conclusively that he was. But he was unrepentant anyway, insisting Diego Simeone's side deserved the 2-0 victory that took them through to the semi-finals, being the better team in both legs.
Antoine Griezmann's brace helped his side overcome a 2-1 deficit in the first-leg at the Nou Camp to eliminate the holders 3-2 on aggregate. In that match (5 April), Atletico had complained about the referee's decision to send off Fernando Torres in the first half just minutes after the former Liverpool striker had scored the opener. Atletico players also suggested double standards as Barca's own former Liverpool striker, Luis Suarez, was fortunate to escape a red card after appearing to kick out at Juanfran.
The controversy continued into the second leg on Wednesday night (13 April) with Barcelona denied the penalty that Gabi's handball deserved for blocking a shot from Andres Iniesta. Had the Catalans scored from the spot, they would have matched the 2-1 score from the first leg, taking the game to extra-time. Instead they got a free kick, which Leo Messi sent over the bar.
"Yes, it was a handball," the captain said, as quoted by AS. "I was on the line and it hit my hand. The referee gave a free kick outside the area, I don't know if the hand was inside or not. Sometimes decisions go your way and sometimes they don't. If it was in, it was in. But we can't get caught up in that one moment, we deserved to win."
"The team put in a huge amount of effort. We defended well and we attacked well on the counter, we created chances and hit the bar. We're going through on merit. In the second half Barcelona pushed and we were put on the back foot. But the team defended very well and went forward well on the break. We deserved it."
Manager Simeone, meanwhile, said he had been told that Gabi's handball was inside the area, but pointed out that Andres Iniesta should have been sent off minutes earlier for the handball that conceded the penalty for Griezmann's crucial second goal. Iniesta escaped with a yellow, though that will feel like scant consolation after his side blew the chance to become the first team to successfully defend the Champions League.
"I didn't see it [Gabi's handball] but they tell me it was inside the area. I saw the Iniesta penalty better and I thought it was a red card. These are difficult situations for the referee," Simeone said, as quoted by Sport.