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Guardiola falls short again as Man City suffer cruel but familiar blow

There will no showdown with Liverpool in Paris. Manchester City’s wait to conquer Europe goes on.

And as spectacular as Real’s late, late comeback was in the Bernabeu, Guardiola will face recriminations once more for his failure to deliver on this stage, despite the riches of talent at his disposal.

While his great rival, Jurgen Klopp, prepares for a third final in five seasons, Guardiola has fallen short again.

Real were magnificent across the two legs in as much as they simply refused to be beaten – against all odds.

By the time Karim Benzema’s 95th-minute penalty had put them in front for the first time in the tie, it was hard to count up the amount of times they had been left for dead.

On three occasions in the first leg at the Etihad they trailed by two goals. And the aggregate deficit extended to that again when Riyad Mahrez fired City ahead on 73 minutes.

Guardiola’s side had finally seen off the most stubborn of opponents, it appeared.

When Jack Grealish came on to twist Real in knots in the dying moments, it almost felt cruel. The England international was inches away from rubbing salt in the wounds when he slalomed into the box and squeezed a shot under Thibaut Courtois that was cleared off the line by Ferland Mendy.

How crucial that moment proved to be.

With the clock ticking into the 90th-minute, Benzema’s cutback at the far post was stabbed home by Rodrygo.

It felt like a fitting consolation – but not to the incredible Bernabeu crowd, who were never going to let this one go until the very death. When the board went up to reveal six minutes of added time, they celebrated as if it was a goal.

City, meanwhile, wilted.

And just a minute later Rodrygo was there to head Marco Asensio’s cross past a stunned Ederson. At that point the only question was whether Real would even need extra time.

They have done this dance before – just a round earlier when ending Chelsea’s reign as European champions. Now it was City’s to succumb to the unique magic of this club.

Ruben Dias’ rash challenge summed up the panic that coursed through the visitors, five minutes into the additional 30.

Referee Daniele Orsato pointed to the spot and there was no doubt what the outcome would be when Benzema placed the ball from 12 yards.

From there on, it never looked like this tie of twists and turns would spring another surprise.

So Guardiola must assess another European campaign that has failed to live up to expectations. This was one of those meltdowns that have been all too evident during his career since winning the competition twice in three years with Lionel Messi and Barcelona.

But he will know the tie was not lost in Madrid, but back in Manchester a week earlier.

How the Premier League leaders contrived to squander their superiority in that match is a mystery. Their 4-3 advantage after 90 minutes did not come close to reflecting their dominance. The fear was always that they would be made to pay – and so it proved.

Yet for much of the second leg they demonstrated a newfound maturity on this stage.

Just as they weathered the fury of Atletico Madrid in the quarter-final, they stood up to Real’s charge here.

While Carlo Ancelotti’s side did not manage a shot on target until Rodrygo’s goal, their failure to score was more down to errant finishing than a lack of chances. Benzema twice failed to test Ederson with opportunities he has gobbled up this season.

Vinicius Junior, meanwhile, was involved in the battle of the night with Kyle Walker, who was outstanding in matching the winger stride for stride.

Without Walker, who was so badly missed in the first leg, City would have been in serious trouble. And it is notable that Real’s three goals came after he was forced off with an injury, with Rodrygo’s first came after Benzema found space down City’s right.

But that is not reason enough to explain this most remarkable of comebacks.

Rather it was a perfect cocktail of City losing their heads while the strange magic of the Bernabeu went to work.

It was cruel on Guardiola – but all too familiar.

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