Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has jumped to the defence of Lionel Messi after the Argentinian's penalty miss cost his team a place in the Champions League final.
Messi cut a disconsolate figure at the final whistle 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 effectively assured of 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 Barca 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.
"We played in Pamplona and it was 10 below zero - very cold - and he wanted to play and win the game. He's an example for all of us.
"His competitiveness, how he pushes us all to be better. I've got no doubt that he's going to experience a few difficult hours now because he's a competitive guy but this is what is beautiful about football.
"Sometimes you smile and sometimes it's your turn to be sad."
IT would have felt like a moment of glorious redemption for the £50 million man. A £50 million goal. Finally, finally here was a strike from Fernando Torres that really meant something.