Andres Iniesta admitted he might have played his last Champions League match after Barcelona’s shock quarter-final exit to Roma.
Barca were 4-1 up from the first leg but goals from Edin Dzeko, Daniele de Rossi – with a penalty – and Kostas Manolas saw Roma stun the Spaniards with a 3-0 victory to edge through on away goals.
Barca skipper Iniesta is tipped to leave the Nou Camp this summer and he could not hide his disappointment at bowing out of Europe, maybe for the final time.
“That is a possibility and for that reason it hurts even more,” the 33-year-old midfielder told Marca.
“It’s a very hurtful elimination because nobody expected it due to the lead we had.
“When you do things badly, make lots of mistakes and don’t adapt to the game, this is what happens.
“It’s a big disappointment because of the season we were having.
“It’s difficult to take this elimination because we had a lot of hope and it has escaped.”
As the inquest began Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu called for unity at the club who are still on the verge of clinching the La Liga title.
He wrote on Twitter: “Being knocked out of the Champions League is a very tough blow for all Barca fans. But it is now when the supporters, coaches and players have to be more united than ever.”
Nevertheless, coach Ernesto Valverde admitted it had been a bad night for the five-time European champions.
“We never felt comfortable in the game because Roma played very well and we couldn’t get our own game going,” he said at his post-match press conference.
“They took risks and we couldn’t cope with all that deep pressing. The first goal gave them strength and then they got a second and third in the second half.”
“I feel sorry for the fans. It’s been a huge disappointment for them. But now we just have to focus on the competitions that we have left. We have to keep looking ahead.”
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said on Monday he expects a Roma backlash in their Champions League quarter-final second leg at the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday.
The Spanish league leaders have one foot in the semi-finals after romping to a 4-1 first leg victory in the Camp Nou last week as Roma proved partly the architects of their own downfall in scoring two own goals.
But Valverde isn’t counting his chickens against a side that hasn’t reached the semi-finals since 1984.
“I’ve been doing this long enough to know that extraordinary things can happen in a game,” said Valverde at Monday’s pre-match press conference in Rome.
“It’ll be the same kind of game as the first leg, but they’ll have even more intensity.
“History says that, at our level, it’s hard to score against us, but we can’t think that they don’t have a chance or they won’t try.
“A mistake, an excess of confidence, they could cost us dearly and we are at the doors of the semi-finals.”
He added: “We can’t think we’ve already won, it’s all to be decided. We got a good result at Camp Nou, we have the advantage, but we need to play as though it were 0-0.”
Roma managed to stifle Barca star Lionel Messi in the first leg, which was a source of pride for their coach Eusebio Di Francesco.
“Everyone was saying he wasn’t fit and suddenly he scored a hat-trick (in La Liga) on Sunday,” said Di Francesco.
“This means we managed to limit his movement between the lines. We have to reduce the space around him as much as possible, wherever he pops up on the pitch.”
Di Francesco has been boosted by the return of Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan, who missed the first leg due to a muscular problem, and Turkish winger Cengiz Ünder, who was not in Barcelona either.
“I’m someone who always wants to play, even in pain,” said Nainggolan. “I decided to leave room for others, who were in a better condition than me, but now I’m better again.”
Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets is a doubt as he recovers from a fractured toe, but Valverde can count on the attacking duo of Messi and Luis Suarez.
“Every team and coach wants to stop the best players from hurting them. We have Messi, and that has an effect on the opposition,” said the Barcelona coach.
“They did well in the first leg, but we know he can always find the key to be decisive. Then of course we’ll have to be wary of (Edin) Dzeko and others.”
Barcelona last reached the semi-finals in 2015 when they won the title.
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde is faced with a selection dilemma despite a 4-1 advantage over Roma in their Champions League quarter-final clash.
Sergio Busquets remains a doubt after limping off during the last-16 clash with Chelsea due to a fractured toe.
The Spaniard trained last week but may not be fit in time to face the Italian side, meaning Paulinho is likely to partner Ivan Rakitic in central midfield.
Ousmane Dembele may be selected out wide although Valverde could opt for Sergi Roberto.
Meanwhile, Samuel Umtiti, Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba are set to return to the starting XI after being rested during the 3-1 win over Leganes on Saturday.
LIKELY LINE-UP: Ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Dembele, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez