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Arsenal were heroes, says angry Wenger
May 18, 2006 12:19 IST
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger blasted the refereeing and paid tribute to his men for a spirited performance after they lost 2-1 to Barcelona in Wednesday's Champions League final.
"I'm really angry because that first Barcelona goal was clearly offside," Wenger told a news conference after the game at the Stade de France in Paris.
"My players were heroes tonight but they were not rewarded. Football can be so cruel."
Arsenal, who had goalkeeper Jens Lehmann sent off early on, opened the scoring with 10 men but on 76 minutes, Samuel Eto'o raced into the box to latch on to Henrik Larsson's flicked pass and put Barcelona level.
Brazilian substitute Belletti then grabbed the winner with his first ever goal for Barca after an astute Larsson pass.
"Playing with 10 against 11 was very difficult but that first Barcelona goal changed the match," Wenger said.
"This is our first defeat in Europe this season and it comes after conceding a goal that was not valid. It's very frustrating."
Captain Thierry Henry, twice denied by great saves from Barca keeper Victor Valdes, had no problem with Lehmann's dismissal but believed Norwegian referee Terje Hauge had favoured the Spanish champions with his decisions.
"That goal was offside and there were other decisions in the game that were not right," Henry said. "I don't want to argue but this hurts. You never want to lose a final and you certainly don't want to lose one like this.
"We fought like lions and we can leave with our heads held high but what people will remember from what happened tonight is that Barcelona won and we lost," Henry told reporters.
Wenger said Arsenal had proved a point by giving Barcelona, regarded by many as the favourites with their brilliant individuals and brand of attacking football, a run for their money.
"I don't think the best team won tonight," Wenger said. "Even after we were down to 10 they were rarely dangerous and created little.
"Everybody was talking about Ronaldinho but the one I saw was Larsson," added Wenger, who could only have been impressed after the veteran Sweden striker, who came on as a substitute in his last match for Barcelona, was involved in both his side's goals.
"It was a tough match and the whole team deserve credit for the win," said a jubilant Larsson.
"It was an unbelievable way for me to finish my career at Barcelona. I have had a fantastic experience here in my two years with two league titles and now this. It's amazing."
Team mate Deco, savouring his second Champions League triumph after winning with Porto in 2004, added: "They had chances early on but the sending off of Lehmann was an advantage for us. They still scored but we came back. It is an historical achievement for everyone at the club."
UEFA Champions League 2005-06: The Complete Coverage