Guardiola: Man City must 'stand up' for Premier League race after 'cruel' UCL exit

MANCHESTER, England -- Pep Guardiola said it was a "cruel" way for Manchester City to go out of the Champions League after a late Raheem Sterling goal was ruled out by the virtual assistant referee.

City beat Tottenham Hotspur 4-3 on the night but went out on the away goal rule in a breathtaking quarterfinal second leg at the Etihad Stadium. The home side initially thought they had snatched an injury-time winner when Sterling scored his third of the night only for the goal to be ruled out after being reviewed by the VAR.

"We are close to going through and after we went out through the action -- it is cruel but we have to accept it," he told a news conference.

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"It was a nice game for everybody -- 3-2 after 20 minutes, and in the second half we did everything. It was not easy to create chances, but we created a lot. We made mistakes, and in that competition you are punished a lot but we knew it.

"We scored the goals that we needed. Unfortunately at the end it was a bad end for us. Congratulations Tottenham and all the best for the semifinals."

After an incredible opening 11 minutes when both teams scored twice, City had advantage in the tie when Sergio Aguero put them 4-2 ahead. But Fernando Llorente scored for the visitors on 73 minutes, but Guardiola believed the goal should have been disallowed even though referee Cuneyt Cakir reviewed the goal.

"I support VAR. But maybe from one angle the goal from Llorente is handball, maybe from the referee it is not," the City boss said. "I am fine for fair football and fair decisions. The referee must be helped. In the future and the present, it will be fair and that's all.

"The referees must be helped sometimes. When it is offside, it is offside. What can I say? I think in the future, and even in the present it will be fair and that is all."

On Sterling's goal being ruled out, he added: "I saw the action, and if the people decide it is offside, it is offside. What can I say? It's tough in that moment.

"We missed a penalty in the first leg. We created an incredible amount of chances today against a tough team. We reacted incredibly well. I am so proud, especially for the fans. Thanks so much for the reaction and incredible behaviour. It was an amazing night for us."

When asked to comment on the VAR decisions that decided City's fate, a UEFA spokesman told ESPN FC: "All relevant angles were made available to the referee to take his decision."

City must pick themselves up quickly with no room for error in the Premier League, and that starts with a rematch against Mauricio Pochettino's side on Saturday.

"We have to stand up and react," he added. "It is a close time and the same team. "Now it's time to think not too much now. We have to try to sleep as much as possible and the day before the game we are going to prepare the game.

"We fought for nine or 10 months in the Premier League and still we are there. It is in our hands. Of course it is tough and we have to do it until the end."

UEFA have confirmed the dates for the Champions League semifinals, with Tottenham vs. Ajax first leg on April 30 and Barcelona vs. Liverpool on May 1. Liverpool vs. Barcelona in the second leg is set for May 7, while Ajax host Tottenham on May 8.