VfB Stuttgart united in self-criticism, rather than in praise of a Lionel Messi-inspired FC Barcelona, after losing 4-0 at Camp Nou to equal their worst UEFA Champions League defeat and exit the competition.
Christian Gross's side had gone into the second leg not only dreaming of a quarter-final place, but with the aim of drawing on their own inspirational display for an hour of the opener in Germany. Neither objective was fulfilled as Stuttgart went down 5-1 on aggregate, and even shortly after the final whistle there was a desire to set disappointment aside and learn from the experience.
The emotion was best summed up by the midfielder Stuttgart have on loan from Barcelona, Aleksandr Hleb, who said life had been made too easy for Messi. "We made too many mistakes," Hleb told UEFA.com. "Messi wasn't pressed when he scored his goals. You don't often get the chance to play against such a top-class team so now we have to learn from the experience.
"Barça showed us how to take full advantage of your chances," the midfielder added. "I have no idea why we were significantly worse [than in the first leg] but we couldn't keep possession because we gave the ball away too much. Perhaps we were too nervous and that made us give them too many chances."
For 13 minutes, Stuttgart actually looked comfortable and were building attacks. But one stray pass prompted Messi's stunning first goal and a scintillating combination move brought Barça's second, Pedro Rodríguez tapping in. By the 22nd minute, the hosts had complete control of the first knockout round tie and Gross's blueprint for victory was ruined.
Stuttgart midfielder Sami Khedira said: "Barcelona showed in Stuttgart that they are world-class, but we just didn't perform today. We couldn't put our game plan into practice. Everything we planned, we failed to achieve. The early goal made it very difficult for us and their second came too soon after."
If there was one positive from Stuttgart's Camp Nou visit, it was the noisy support that accompanied them. "We wanted to bring the euphoria from the first leg into this match and use it to make history," said defender Christian Träsch. "But we never really got going, and we just have to say thank you to our many fans who came all this way just to support us."
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