Standing tall

Joe Hart’s display at the Nou Camp in Man City’s 1-0 defeat to Barcelona was nothing short of exceptional as England’s number one made 10 saves, a record for any goalkeeper in this season’s Champions League. By Pete Evans.

At a time when English football has been doing its fair share of soul-searching, the words phenomenal, incredible and fantastic have been rarely used, with one exception.

For the first time since 1993 there are no Premier League clubs in the last eight of any of the European competitions after Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Everton became the latest to be knocked out. There is arguably only one Englishman who bowed out of Europe’s premier competition on a high, having put in one of the best individual performances of the season.

Joe Hart’s display at the Nou Camp in Man City’s 1-0 defeat to Barcelona was nothing short of exceptional as England’s number one made 10 saves, a record for any goalkeeper in this season’s Champions League.

At times Hart looked like a one-man wall as he helped City avoid humiliation against some of the world’s best attackers with a string of top-draw saves. While Ivan Rakitic found a way past Hart in the first half to put the tie to bed, his illustrious team-mates failed to join him on the score-sheet despite their best efforts.

After the final whistle the Barca stars were queuing up to heap praise on the 27-year-old, who had also saved a penalty from Lionel Messi in the dying seconds of the first leg in Manchester.

“He was phenomenal, he stopped everything,” Messi said on the Barca website. “We have to congratulate him on a great game because he’s a fantastic goalkeeper.”

Spanish midfielder Andres Iniesta added: “Hart was key to keeping them in it and was great in one-on-one situations. Outstanding.”

Coach Luis Enrique was happy to see his side progress to the quarterfinals but felt the score-line did not reflect their dominance — with Hart the main reason.

“The score could have been a rout,” he said. “Hart was incredible but we weren’t really on towards the end.”

His stunning individual display could not help ease the disappointment for Hart, who has since become the 14th goalkeeper to reach 100 Premier League clean sheets, as City once again failed to make significant progress in the Champions League.

The 3-1 aggregate loss means City are yet to get past the last 16 since their return to the competition and they have now been knocked out by the Catalan giants in the last two seasons.

“We’ve gone out to a magnificent side but that’s the second time in two years which is disappointing for us,” Hart mused. “I had a lot to do, but I wanted it to count. I said that after the first leg, and it hasn’t. Even when we lose — even when I make mistakes, and it’s all my fault — I am still proud of my efforts, and of my team, and we will keep going.

“Make no bones about it, Barcelona were the better team in both legs, but we hung on in there, defended and made saves, and made tackles, but then didn’t take our chance to get back into it.

“We have to learn to take our chances. Sometimes in Europe you won’t be the better team and you have to somehow find a way to win.”

Thoughts now turn to salvaging their domestic campaign as City look to prevent leaders Chelsea taking the Premier League crown. Whatever happens in the coming weeks, Hart is unlikely to endure many busier evenings than in Barcelona.

© PA Sport