Alessandro Nesta said he could leave with his "head held high" after AC Milan lost 3-1 to FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou, a result that sent the holders into the UEFA Champions League semi-finals for the fifth consecutive season.
The 36-year-old centre-back was instrumental as Milan managed to hold Barcelona to a goalless draw in the quarter-final first leg, but the seven-time European champions failed to repeat the trick in Spain where Lionel Messi scored two first-half penalties and Andrés Iniesta added a third goal after the break.
Nesta said that Messi made the difference. "With respect to the other great Barcelona players, I think Messi did at least 70% of the work tonight," said the former Italian international. "Whenever they struggled to make their possession tell, he made one of his runs, making it so difficult for us because he does it so many times during a game."
It was a Messi surge, after robbing the ball from Philippe Mexès on the halfway line, that led to Barcelona's first spot kick. "I'm sorry because my mistake resulted in their first goal," said the France defender. "It's hard to play against them because they were always pressing the defenders, so it was very difficult to start things from the back when we had the ball. However, we managed to equalise and we started to believe we could hit them again on the counterattack – until the other penalty."
After Antonio Nocerino's leveller, Nesta conceded the second penalty of the evening close to half-time, tugging Sergio Busquets in the box. From that point on, the going was tough according to Nesta. "Barcelona are extremely strong when they have room to play their football," the veteran said. "
There is a difference between us and them at the moment but I think Milan can reduce this gap very soon. I think we could have beaten them today if we had made more of our counterattacks."
Nesta, however, has no regrets, explaining that Milan were facing the best team in the world. "We were unlucky to get Barcelona in the draw," he said. "But at least we know we are bowing out against the best in the world. We came here with a chance after the first leg and stayed in contention for most of the tie. Personally I think I can leave the stadium with my head held high, I'm 36 but I gave everything on the pitch. Now we need a last push to win the Scudetto, we are ahead with eight games remaining and we have to go all the way."
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