The West

VIDEO: Guardiola defends Messi after costly penalty miss
Lionel Messi smashes his penalty against the crossbar. Pic: AP Photo

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola rallied to the support of Lionel Messi after the Argentinian star's penalty miss that almost certainly cost his team a place in the Champions League final.

Messi cut a disconsolate figure on Tuesday following his side's agonising semi-final exit to Chelsea, who fought back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 on the night and claim a 3-2 aggregate victory.

Arguably the turning point in the contest came early in the second half when Messi smashed a penalty against the crossbar after Didier Drogba was adjudged to have brought down Cesc Fabregas.

Had Messi converted his spot-kick Barcelona would have been 3-1 up and on course for a place in the final against a Chelsea side reduced to 10 men following the first-half dismissal of John Terry.

Fernando Torres' last-gasp equaliser, which came as Barcelona swarmed forward desperately in search of the goal that would seal the tie, shattered the Catalans' hopes of reaching a third final in four seasons.

Guardiola however issued a vociferous defence of Messi, who has now failed to score in eight games against Chelsea.

"We've gotten to where we are today thanks to this kid," Guardiola said. "More than ever I want to thank him for what he's done for us.

"My admiration for him knows no limits. He's daring, he's brave, he plays fantastic in different conditions."

Guardiola said Barcelona's concession of a goal from Ramires on the stroke of halftime had proved crucial. Prior to that Barcelona led 2-0 and appeared to be sauntering to a routine victory.

"I think that at 2-0 at half-time we would have believed we would do it, but at 2-1 it was bad for us psychologically," Guardiola said.

"No matter what we did it wasn't enough ... You have to praise Chelsea for their defensive display - for their courage, for their bravery, for their mental strength in knowing that they had to play this game."

The West Australian

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