Xavi is not ready to welcome the end of Barcelona's season despite the relief of clinching Champions League qualification on Saturday.

The Blaugrana beat Real Betis 2-1 in Seville to ensure the fifth-placed side can no longer catch them in second.

Ansu Fati's scuffed shot broke the deadlock, before ex-Barca defender Marc Bartra responded with a similarly untidy header.

It fell to Jordi Alba to win the match and secure Barca's top-four place with a sublime 94th-minute volley.

Coach Xavi saluted his side for the effort they put in to recover from a poor start to the season, having won every match they have played against top-10 opposition in 2022.

But he still has his sights set on tying up second place.

"We've taken a weight off our shoulders," Xavi said. "It could have been a more complicated and difficult season.

"The team has competed a lot. We have not played excellently in many games; in others, yes, but we have a winning soul and competitive character.

"We beat the top 10 in this second round of the season. It's evidence that we have to play better. It has to be analysed, but we have made a titanic effort from November to here.

"We will be in the Champions League, the competition we deserve. Now we want to be second."

However, Xavi added this achievement was the "minimum required" at Camp Nou, saying: "I want to compete for titles. We can't miss another year not being competitive."

The former Barca midfielder will hope Fati can have a big role to play in an improved 2022-23 campaign, having been limited to 12 appearances – in which he has still scored six goals – due to injuries this term.

Xavi hailed Fati as his "difference-maker", scoring 75 seconds after his introduction from the bench, and said: "It's a very good feeling to have him back."

Joey Barton had cited Real Madrid's remarkable Champions League fightback against Manchester City as an example to Bristol Rovers before Saturday's promotion decider, but even he might have struggled to imagine the "footballing miracle" that unfolded.

Former City and Newcastle United midfielder Barton led Rovers into their final match of the League Two season outside the automatic promotion places on goal difference and so needing to better Northampton Town's result by five goals.

Still, boss Barton's focus was on what Rovers could achieve against already-relegated Scunthorpe United, rather than worrying about Northampton's result at Barrow.

"If we win 10-0, we're up, aren't we? It is in our hands in that way," he said, adding: "It's very rare you do someone by 10, but who knows?"

As it was, seven would do – tying a club record.

At half-time, Rovers were 2-0 up, but Northampton also led by two, 3-1 in front and coasting towards League One.

Having scored four in the second half of the previous week's sensational 4-3 win at Rochdale, Barton's side this time needed five in the same period.

But the one-time England international was not daunted by the challenge, having pointed to Madrid's turnaround that secured a Champions League final place.

"Madrid thought they were out of the Champions League, then they scored two goals in stoppage time," he had said. "It only takes a second to score a goal."

Rovers certainly did not lack ambition in pursuit of their unlikely aim, attempting 34 shots – the second-most by a team in a single League Two game this season.

Elliot Anderson, the Newcastle loanee dubbed 'the Geordie Maradona' following a comparison from Barton to the late Argentina legend, contributed to 15 of those efforts, taking eight shots himself and creating seven chances.

Following his signing, winger Anderson – who only ended up at Rovers after a Championship loan collapsed – led League Two in shot involvements (133) and ranked second for goal involvements (13).

It was no surprise then that the teenager, having supplied two assists, scored the decisive seventh goal in a 7-0 win while Northampton failed to add to their lead. Even Madrid would surely have been impressed.

"Incredible," Rovers owner Wael al-Qadi told BBC Sport. "It was fantastic to have experienced such a moment.

"The plan was to go for it. I never doubted this bunch of players. They went for it and look what happened. It's a footballing miracle."

Both the owner and Barton had taken to the pitch to plead with Rovers fans to return to the stands and allow the match to finish after Anderson's header.

"I can't describe it," Barton added. "It's probably something when I'm in my rocking chair, and the fact I've headed a lot of balls out at the near post area has caught up with me, I'll remember this favourably with Weetabix running down my chin.

"I'll be thinking of the scenes at the Mem on this day."

Mauricio Pochettino declared it difficult to rate Paris Saint-Germain's season after a record-equalling Ligue 1 title followed Champions League disappointment.

PSG held a slender 1-0 advantage heading to Real Madrid in the Champions League last-16 second leg before doubling their advantage in the return fixture, but a Karim Benzema-inspired second-half turnaround dumped Pochettino's side out the competition.

Questions circulated and still remain over the future of Pochettino at PSG, who replaced Thomas Tuchel at the helm in January 2021.

Former Tottenham boss Pochettino may have somewhat eased the pressure by clinching PSG's 10th league title, but the Argentine admitted it is hard to judge the success of the season.

"It's very difficult to rate the season," he told reporters at a pre-match news conference on Saturday before facing Troyes. 

"When I arrived a year and a half ago, the main objective was to win the Champions League. From the moment we haven't achieved it, it's difficult.

"Despite everything, there is this satisfaction of having obtained this 10th title in the history of the club. It's always something to win a national title."

Pochettino did not make the five-man shortlist for the Ligue 1 coach award by the French players' union, UNFP, despite winning the title.

The list was instead made up of Christophe Galtier (Nice), Bruno Genesio (Rennes), Antoine Kombouare (Nantes), Jorge Sampaoli (Marseille) and Julien Stephan (Strasbourg).

However, Pochettino insists he has no problem with the lack of personal recognition.

"I have no opinion to give," he said when asked about the award. "I didn't have any either when I was one of the England nominees alongside Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola. 

"It's a fact, I don't have much to say."

PSG will turn their focus to ending the season in strong fashion, next hosting Troyes on Sunday, though the Ligue 1 champions may be without star forward Lionel Messi.

The Argentina captain returned to individual training after feeling pain in his ribs, but another review will be conducted on Sunday morning to see if the former Barcelona star is fit to feature.

Pochettino, though, has been satisfied with PSG's preparations.

"Yesterday we had a great time together as a squad," he continued. "Everyone was there, we are a real family and it's important to spend time together like that.

"We have prepared well for tomorrow's match. We need to remain professional until the end of the season and we are ready for this penultimate home match.

"It's important to finish our work in the right way. We need to continue to work because we also need to prepare the players for the international matches that are coming soon."

Real Madrid talisman Karim Benzema is "one of the most underrated players in history" according to UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin.

Benzema has produced several incredible displays to fire Real Madrid to their 17th European Cup/Champions League final, scoring hat-tricks in last-16 and quarter-final ties with Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea, before netting three goals across a 6-5 aggregate win over Manchester City in the semi-finals.

The 34-year-old has been touted for the Ballon d'Or after scoring 43 goals and providing 14 assists in all competitions for Los Blancos this term, with Carlo Ancelotti's team also wrapping up the LaLiga title last week.

The France international has scored 10 goals in the Champions League knockout stages, the joint-most recorded by a player in a single campaign, along with Cristiano Ronaldo in 2016-17, also for Madrid.

Speaking to AS, Ceferin rejected suggestions Madrid had been fortunate in the competition this season, hailing the contributions of Benzema and midfielder Luka Modric and labelling the former "awesome".

"For me, one of the most underrated players in history is Benzema. He is an amazing player. And they have Luka Modric, who the older he gets, the better he plays," Ceferin said.

"Now [Benzema] is becoming more and more recognized. He has always been in someone's shadow. 

"It's amazing how this footballer can score goals. He finds a way, even when it seems impossible to score. He is an awesome player.

"We will have to ask them [Madrid] how it is possible. They are an experienced team. You could say that they have been a bit lucky in some matches, but you can only be lucky in one, not all."

After scoring an extra-time penalty to send Los Blancos to the May 28 final at City's expense, Benzema has scored seven Champions League goals against English teams this season, the most by a player in a single campaign in the competition's history.

He will have the opportunity to build on that record when Ancelotti's men face Liverpool in the final in Paris, and Ceferin believes the removal of the away goals rule has contributed to this Champions League season being one of the most exhilarating in recent history.

"That's the Champions League. The biggest football promotion and the best sports competition in the world," he added. "And when you watch these games… it's amazing. 

"I am happy that we have changed the away goals rule. When I told some of my team-mates that, they told me that there would be more penalty shoot-outs. 

"But it is not true and that is how it has been seen. The matches, in my opinion, are more interesting.

"The clubs in the Champions League are the best and playing away is almost the same as playing at home. I'm looking forward to the final."

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin says the remaining Super League clubs Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus could yet face sanctions, also insisting they are free to form their own competition if they give up their places in the Champions League.

Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus were the only three founding clubs not to renounce their backing for the widely derided Super League after the breakaway project's collapse in April 2021.

Last month, a Madrid court lifted precautionary measures preventing UEFA from punishing the trio, who have continued to voice their backing for a new competition – to be governed by its founding clubs – despite the withdrawals of the other nine founding members.

Speaking to AS, Ceferin hinted sanctions against the trio could be on the horizon and hit out at the "incredible arrogance" of the clubs.

Ceferin, who assumed his post in 2016 after succeeding Michel Platini, also said the clubs were free to do whatever they liked, but would not be allowed to participate in UEFA competitions if the venture was revived.  

"Of course it's possible [to sanction the clubs] but let's see what happens," he said. "The only 'hello' UEFA got from them came from the courts, as they tried to challenge us everywhere. 

"We never said that they couldn't play their own competition, because they can if they want. But it's funny that these were the clubs that first registered in the Champions League. 

"If they play other tournaments, they cannot play in our competitions. That is not a monopoly. They can create their own UEFA and do what they think is right. 

"I showed them a lot of respect in the past. I don't want to talk about the president of Juventus [Andrea Agnelli], but my relationship with him was very open and honest. 

"I never said this before, but I invited the president of Madrid, Florentino Perez, to Nyon before it all happened to talk about future competitions. He called off the meeting with a text message just 24 hours earlier because of 'a basketball-related event'. With [former Barca president Josep Maria] Bartomeu I never spoke.

"Everyone had a chance to speak, and we've never been pushy or arrogant. The announcement of that project was an act of incredible arrogance on their part, and that's probably why they don't want to communicate with UEFA. 

"But that has never influenced how we treat them in our tournaments. You can see it in their successes: Real Madrid will play in the Champions League final and Barca will play in the Women's Champions League. That is a clear sign that our competitions are healthy, fair and correct.

"Football must remain open to all, and we will not back down one millimetre to defend the European sporting model. What they want is theirs, and they are free to get together and do what they want."

Amid their refusal to back down on their support for the Super League, Real Madrid will appear in their 17th European Cup/Champions League final later this month after a remarkable 6-5 aggregate triumph over Manchester City in the semi-finals.

Meanwhile, although UEFA has faced criticism for proposed Champions League reforms which could allow two qualification places to be awarded based on historical performances, Ceferin said the demise of the Super League made clear that continental football must remain open to all.

"I was glad it happened because it was always up in the air," he added. "When it finally came out, we ended once and for all with this nonsense that football can be bought, that football is only for the elite, only for the rich. 

"That will never happen. People warned me that the same people killed basketball, but I told them, 'Basketball is not football. It will never be football.' Football is part of our history. It is part of our traditions."

Real Madrid's dramatic Champions League turnaround against Manchester City showed Carlos Sainz he has plenty of time to get his Formula One season back on track. 

Riyad Mahrez looked to have done enough to deny Madrid a place in the final of Europe's premier club competition on Tuesday but two last-gasp goals from Rodrygo forced extra time at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Karim Benzema's penalty then gave the Spanish giants a 6-5 aggregate semi-final victory to book their place in the showpiece match against Liverpool. 

Madrid fan Sainz is finding himself under pressure to turn things around at Ferrari, having been forced to retire in the opening stages of the previous two races. 

Ahead of this weekend's maiden Miami Grand Prix, Sainz joked that anything is still possible for him this season given the feat Madrid managed to pull off. 

"Missing the 600 kilometres [of the past two races] hurts me more than the zero points, because the kilometres are what make you learn about the car and the new regulations," he told AS. 

"I did a test in Imola in which I also had a problem, but we are recovering as best we can. It's part of the athlete's life. There are always better and worse moments. 

"The last two races have not been ideal – far from it – but we have also had a bit of bad luck. Now we want a clean weekend to try to recover. 

"Madrid had it worse. I have 19 races left. Madrid had five minutes left!" 

However, Sainz revealed that promotional duties meant he missed Rodrygo's late double. 

"It was amazing. I missed the last few minutes of chaos because I was in the middle of an event with Shell. It shows that nothing is decided until the last minute," he added. 

Inter's unlikely 2009-10 Champions League success under Jose Mourinho could inspire Cameroon to a shock World Cup triumph in Qatar, according to the former Nerazzurri and Indomitable Lions striker Samuel Eto'o.

The Cameroon great was part of the Inter side that completed a stunning treble in 2009-10, winning a fifth consecutive Scudetto, the Coppa Italia and their first Champions League or European Cup title in 45 years.

Diego Milito's brace was enough to down Bayern Munich in the final of UEFA's elite club competition, with Eto'o assisting the Argentina international for his second goal to wrap up victory.

Inter overcame Chelsea and Barcelona either side of defeating of CSKA Moscow en route to the final, and Eto'o – who is now president of the Cameroonian Football Federation – optimistically believes his country can follow the Nerazzurri's example at Qatar 2022.

"I don't see why he can't win it," he told reporters in Milan, where the 41-year-old has returned to announce a charity friendly game in San Siro on May 23 that will include the likes of Francesco Totti and Lionel Messi.

"I believe that in order to win the World Cup you don't need to be monsters or aliens, you need good preparation, a strong mentality and a pinch of madness.

"I won a bit in my career and to do it I gave everything. 

"I always take Inter as an example: no one at the beginning of the 2009-10 season thought we could win [the Champions League] and instead Mourinho did something crazy, with a group of men and warriors.

"I would like something like that for Cameroon too."

Cameroon's best performance at a World Cup saw them famously reach the 1990 quarter-finals, but they did not make it out of the group in any of their other six participations, failing to even register a point at either South Africa 2010 or Brazil 2014.

Having missed out on Russia 2018, Cameroon will have to overcome the world's number-one ranked side Brazil, Serbia and Switzerland in Group G later this year.

Pep Guardiola accepts his Manchester City players will not be able to forget Wednesday's defeat to Real Madrid, but he does not believe that should hamper their Premier League title bid.

City suffered yet more Champions League pain as Madrid scored two late goals and another in extra time to beat Guardiola's men 3-1 in their semi-final second leg, securing a 6-5 aggregate triumph.

Despite being four games away from another domestic league title, with Liverpool just a point behind, the Madrid match dominated Guardiola's pre-match news conference ahead of playing Newcastle United.

The manager imagines it will be the same inside the minds of his players, yet that does not concern him.

"They don't have to forget it," he said. "How are we going to forget it? We are going to play against Newcastle thinking about that, for sure.

"All the players in the training sessions, the meeting rooms, the warm-up, they are committed, they are going to do it. I don't have any doubt about that."

Guardiola made the assertion despite claiming he has not spoken to his City squad since returning from Madrid, allowing them time to recover before facing Newcastle.

Asked what he had said to the players, the Catalan coach said: "Nothing, we didn't speak. No words can help what all of us feel. It's just a question of time.

"Tomorrow will be the first day we'll be together, and we are going to talk about who we are as a team, what we have done in this semi-final of the Champions League, how good we have been – not just in these two games but all season – and trying to do an excellent last week.

"Probably it's one of the moments since I've been manager [when I have been] the most proud I am to be in this club, this organisation."

Guardiola's explanation for much of what happened in midweek was simple, repeating several times: "It's football."

He bristled at the idea Rodrygo Goes' dramatic last-gasp double exposed a mental fragility in his City side.

"There is no time for 'mental'," Guardiola said. "It was 45 seconds later."

He added: "Now people say it's a lack of character. A lack of character? What happens if Jack Grealish scores the two goals?

"Where is the character in Atletico when Ederson saves from [Angel] Correa. That's character, but if he scores it's not character?

"When [Thibaut] Courtois saves with his feet and it goes one centimetre to the corner, that is not character?"

City will certainly have to show character against Newcastle, surely fatigued from a draining European encounter in which they appeared to again lose Kyle Walker to injury.

However, Guardiola assured Kevin De Bruyne's substitution in Madrid was only "tactical". "He's good," the City boss added.

Jurgen Klopp has questioned UEFA's allocation of tickets for the Champions League final, where Liverpool will face Real Madrid.

The game at the Stade de France on the outskirts of Paris will be played on May 28, and both participating clubs have been allocated fewer than 20,000 tickets each to sell to fans, despite the capacity of the stadium being 75,000.

Speaking at a media conference ahead of Liverpool's Premier League clash with Tottenham, Klopp was asked about the impact of the travelling Reds support this season, and he was keen to point out the ticket issue.

"When you see the ticket prices and all this kind of stuff, the amount of tickets you get only... did I read, is it right that we only get 20,000, they get 20,000, [but] 75,000 in? That makes 35,000, what? Where are these tickets?," he asked.

"I cannot be more appreciative, more thankful for what [the fans] are doing. Unbelievable... It is the only bad thing about the journey [fans struggling to obtain tickets]. I really hope they all can make it somehow and can create an incredible atmosphere.

"That is what I love about this game, really. The world will be red or white, but everybody will be either or, so that's really cool."

The game will be a repeat of the 2018 Champions League final, in which Madrid ran out 3-1 winners in Kyiv thanks to Gareth Bale's brace and a Karim Benzema goal.

Mohamed Salah was forced off injured following a crude Sergio Ramos challenge early in the contest, and the Egyptian has not held back in his assertions that the Reds want revenge this time around.

Salah posted: "We have a score to settle" on social media on Wednesday, before also saying when he received his Football Writers' Player of the Year award on Thursday: "We lost in the (2018) final, it was a sad day for all of us and I think it is revenge time."

Klopp was not quite as forthright, though he did pay tribute to Madrid's astonishing semi-final win against Manchester City, when Los Blancos came from 5-3 down on aggregate heading into the 90th minute of the second leg to win 6-5 after extra time at the Santiago Bernabeu.

"When we lost that final actually my favourite solution would have been to play the final the next year against Real Madrid, to be honest," Klopp admitted. "But we faced Tottenham [in 2019, winning 2-0], which was absolutely fine, in Madrid, so Madrid seems to be our destiny.

"It was strange and unlucky for City, but what Madrid did was outstanding. They got through against Paris Saint-Germain, against Chelsea, and against City, when we said before when we played Villarreal that if you knock out Bayern, you deserve to be in the semi-final, if you knock out these three [teams], you definitely deserve to be in the final.

"It will be great. That we were not happy that night, that's clear, but it was a while ago. I'm happy to go there and give it a try. Until then, we have a lot of games to play and you will ask a lot of questions about Real Madrid until then.

"What Carlo [Ancelotti] did there is absolutely incredible. If you go to a final the idea is you want to win it and that is what we'll work on the week before."

Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City have already achieved their aims by being contenders in every competition, insisting he was not brought to the Etihad Stadium to win the Champions League.

City's wait for European football's top club prize will go on after they lost 6-5 on aggregate to Real Madrid following an incredible semi-final collapse.

But in a lengthy response to a question about his players' chances of ever winning the competition ahead of Sunday's Premier League game against Newcastle United, Guardiola explained how the club view success differently from "the people" on the outside.

"I don't know [if this team can win it]," he said. "It's a question I cannot answer. Before Madrid, I did not know if we were able to win it.

"I don't have an answer to all your questions. Football is incredibly unpredictable – we saw it.

"This is my feeling, maybe I'm wrong: Abu Dhabi didn't buy this club and invest in these incredible facilities, invest in players, like a lot of other clubs in the world, to be what we lived the last years.

"It's not to win just the Champions League. They did it to be there in all competitions, in every season, compete, compete, compete until the end.

"In the Champions League, we want to do it – maybe I'm not good enough, nobody knows what happens with another manager – but we want to be there as much as possible in all competitions. For us, it's an honour.

"There are people who I know didn't appreciate what this club is doing. Maybe it's not enough, but for me it's incredible, remarkable.

"Being in the semi-finals of the Champions League again, after last season, making steps to be there and compete against an outstanding team in this competition, the way we did it, home and away...

"We were close – not close enough, because the team who wins deserves it – but we were there. This is my feeling.

"It always depends on winning the Champions League, winning the Champions League, winning the Premier League, winning the Premier League – nothing about what we have done since the takeover one decade ago, with all the players that went before, the managers that went before – it doesn't make sense.

"We will try again next season; it will be difficult, because the teams are good. I know the people want to be in that way, I accept it from day one, I have to handle it, but it's not a problem for me.

"It's not about that; it's about in the Premier League again being there, in the FA Cup semi-finals again, in the Champions League semi-finals, this season it could not happen but even the Carabao Cup four times in a row.

"This is where the club want to be. That's why they ask me to come here, for that.

"They never ask me to win any one title. They never ask me anything, the club, if anything just to play as good as possible and compete with all the teams in England and all the teams in Europe we have to play. It's completely opposite to what people think about it.

"I'm not saying it's fair or not fair; I'm not saying that.

"People say if they this group of players or this manager doesn't win a title, they're failures. I accept it, but I completely disagree, completely. We know how difficult it is, but I accept it.

"I'm not going to make it a thing where I am right and you're wrong. You can do whatever, say whatever, but as a club, the feeling that we have, it's to try to do it.

"We are sad, of course we are sad – we were close. The players wanted to play the final. But for this club to compete with Real Madrid the way that we did was a joy.

"How close we were, wow, but we could not do it, okay. I say congratulations to Liverpool and Real Madrid; if they are in the final, they deserve to be in the final.

"It's important that next season we are going to try; if it doesn't work, we are going to try again; if it doesn't work, we are going to try again.

"And in the Premier League, the Carabao Cup next season, we want to go further than we were this season.

"This is when we became a club, you know, a club where this club is great, it's good. Look at all the big clubs in Europe, who every year are there, are there, are there; in the last years, we are there.

"Sometimes it's not possible. Sometimes you put in everything and you do not achieve it. What is the problem?

"Okay, we did not achieve it. The next day, you try to do it; in the good moments, take credit; in the bad moments, more sad than usual. The next day, you try to do it. The club is good for this."

Guardiola insisted he "cannot live" for European glory alone – and suggested City would be criticised even if they did win the Champions League.

Asked if the defeat gave him added hunger, he replied: "No, always I am starving.

"I know the people outside here demand Champions League, Champions League, Champions League, we know it, but I cannot live [just for that].

"The moment we win the Champions League, they'll say look at the money we spent. If not, they spent all that money and didn't win the Champions League. We are the only club in the world in the last 10, 15, 20 years who spent money."

Barcelona coach Xavi is urging his players to take full advantage of a "golden opportunity" to seal Champions League qualification against a direct rival in Real Betis.

The Blaugrana go to Seville on Saturday sitting second in LaLiga, eight points clear of fifth-placed Betis – who won 1-0 at Camp Nou in December – as the battle for the top four nears its conclusion.

A win for Barca over the Copa del Rey winners would take them to 69 points and ensure they do not finish any lower than fourth, with Betis only able to reach 67 and sixth-placed Real Sociedad 68.

While the 15-point gap to champions Real Madrid highlights how confronting 2021-22 has been for Barca, Xavi has restored a degree of positivity since replacing Ronald Koeman in November.

Barca were ninth in LaLiga after 13 matches ahead of Xavi's first game in charge, 10 points behind second-placed Sevilla; they now appear favourites to finish ahead of Julen Lopetegui's side and dethroned champions Atletico Madrid as runners-up.

And Xavi wants his team to clinch Champions League qualification at the first time of asking.

"Hopefully, it's a golden opportunity to qualify for the Champions League," he said on Friday. "They're a direct rival, with great players and a great coach. It will be difficult.

"Football gives us the chance to take sporting revenge. We want to fulfil our goals before the end of the season.

"We are fighting for the minimum, but that's the way it is. There are two goals, but the most important is to be in the Champions League next season.

"That's the objective. If we can get second, which would give us the option of entering the Supercopa, then even better.

"We cannot think beyond this, [but] I hope that this summer there will be signings despite the economic situation. We cannot take the European qualification for granted.

"I expect an opponent [Betis] with a lot of confidence. They have won the Copa, they deserved it. I congratulate Betis, [Manuel] Pellegrini and the players, who are having an excellent, historic season. I congratulate them."

Ever since Xavi's return to the club, their "philosophy" and "DNA" have drawn a lot of focus, with many supporters feeling Barca's ethos was diluted under Ernesto Valverde, Quique Setien and Koeman.

Ronald Araujo commented that restoring "the Barca DNA" with Xavi was a chief goal of his after signing a new contract in April, and while the coach acknowledges he cannot change things in an instant, he is confident they are making progress with a top-four finish almost secure.

"It's not my message, it's the message of Barca's history," Xavi continued. "I don't have a magic wand, what I'm clear about is that with this model [Barca] won five Champions Leagues and world recognition.

"You leave Spain and they remember [Pep] Guardiola's Barca, [Lionel] Messi's Barca, and they remember how we won, not so much what we won.

"We have to wait and be patient. If we review history, there is no doubt."

Mohamed Salah is relishing the prospect of facing Real Madrid after they were confirmed as Liverpool's opponents in the Champions League final.

After Liverpool's dramatic second-leg win over Villarreal carried the Reds through to the May 28 trophy match in Paris, Madrid's taste for the epic was exhibited on Wednesday, scoring two goals in injury time and a third in extra time to eliminate Manchester City.

The 29-year-old Salah reacted on Twitter after Madrid's win, affirming that he and Liverpool have a "score to settle".

He has now gone further to suggest everyone at Liverpool wanted to face Los Blancos more than their fierce Premier League rivals at the Stade de France.

"If you ask everybody [at Liverpool], everyone wanted that game," Salah told Sky Sports. "I don't know why we're not allowed to talk about it, but I'm okay to talk about it – I wanted that game. I wanted to play Real Madrid before that game [against Manchester City].

"Of course, I'm not giving too much credit to them. They're an unbelievable team with a great coach, great players. When they asked me who I wanted, I said Madrid. It's an easy answer."

Salah holds a personal record of one draw and four defeats in the five times he has played against Los Blancos in the Champions League, scoring once – in the first leg of the 2020-21 quarter-final stage.

The 2017-18 final between Liverpool and Madrid was memorable for Salah's early injury and substitution, after a duel with Sergio Ramos where he was dragged down.

Despite personal disappointments for both Liverpool and Roma against Madrid, the Kyiv final four years ago is the one that lingers in the memory, both publicly and individually.

"You just feel so disappointed, so down," Salah said. "'Ah come on, not in this game!' But once you have time, it makes you forget.

"I had work affairs and then I had a holiday after. In that holiday I just asked, 'What do you want? To keep crying about it and be sad about it and it takes you down? Or you just fight back.' And I fought back in the best way and that's why we're here now."

Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos revealed Carlo Ancelotti sought advice from senior players when making tactical changes in the incredible Champions League semi-final win over Manchester City.

A late double from substitute Rodrygo – who became the first player in Champions League history to score twice in the 90th minute of a knockout match – saw Los Blancos force extra time in Madrid. Karim Benzema's penalty then secured a 6-5 aggregate triumph and kept alive Madrid's hopes of a 14th crown in the competition.

Madrid boss Ancelotti has now reached a fifth Champions League final, having done so in 2003, 2005 and 2007 with Milan, and in 2014 and 2022 across two spells with the Spanish champions, and his introduction of Rodrygo, who replaced Kroos after 68 minutes, proved vital.

Fellow substitute Eduardo Camavinga also produced an outstanding display from the bench as Madrid qualified for their 17th European Cup/Champions League final.

Kroos, 32, revealed he and other senior players were asked for input on Ancelotti's switches, saying the Italian's ability to communicate with his players makes him an elite coach.

"The coach himself had a few doubts about who he would bring on and who not to bring on," Kroos told DAZN. "We [the players] have all seen a few football games ourselves. That allows you to exchange ideas a bit.

"That describes him really well and why things always work well with the team. It's outstanding. In the end he decides, but of course he's interested in our opinion."

Since 2003-04, which saw the introduction of the Champions League's last-16 knockout stage, Madrid became the only team to lose a game in each of the first three knockout rounds and still make the competition's final (losing 1-0 to Paris Saint-Germain in the last-16, 3-2 to Chelsea in the quarter-finals, and 4-3 to City in the semi-finals).

After Los Blancos set up a repeat of their 2018 Champions League final against Liverpool, in which a Gareth Bale double won the Spanish outfit their 13th European title, Kroos said he was struggling to explain the team's remarkable ability to bounce back from falling behind.

"It's amazing, we were out 26 times during the knockout phase and fought back 26 times," he added.

"It's sometimes difficult to explain, even for me, what happened in the last few minutes. That's the belief, that's the stadium, the combination is magical."

Liverpool forward Sadio Mane is Karim Benzema's biggest challenger for this year's Ballon d'Or, according to Arsenal and France legend Thierry Henry.

Benzema is enjoying the best season of his career in front of goal and has played a crucial role in Madrid's run to the Champions League final, where Liverpool await on May 28.

The 34-year-old has scored 43 times and provided a further 14 assists in all competitions, with no other player across Europe's top five leagues directly involved in more goals (57).

Robert Lewandowski and Kylian Mbappe are next on that list with 54 combined goals and assists each, while Mane lags some way behind on 23 for Liverpool – albeit having missed part of the season during the Africa Cup of Nations, which he won with Senegal.

Lewandowski, Mbappe and Anfield team-mate Mohamed Salah have been tipped to rival Benzema for football's top individual award, but Henry believes Mane is better placed. 

"To make the final even bigger, the two favourites for the Ballon d'Or are Mane and Benzema," Henry told CBS Sports. "That will add an extra little spice into it."

Mane played a direct part in five goals for Senegal at AFCON, aiding his cause to be crowned the world's best player.

However, if the former Southampton forward is to have any chance of pipping Benzema to the accolade, Henry says he must win a clean sweep of trophies with Liverpool.

The Reds have already lifted the EFL Cup and are into the FA Cup and Champions League finals, but they trail Manchester City by a point with four Premier League games left.

"I still believe that Benzema is ahead, but if Mane wins [the Champions League] with Liverpool and they do make the quadruple, that is a pretty strong case," Henry said.

"It would be great for Africa, but I'm still going for Benzema."

Benzema finished fourth in the voting for last year's Ballon d'Or, which was won by Lionel Messi for a record-extending seventh time.

Indeed, only one player other than Messi and five-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo has won the award since 2008, with Madrid and Croatia midfielder Luka Modric triumphing in 2018.

Former Real Madrid midfielder Guti has admitted his surprise at the form of Karim Benzema this season, labelling him "football in its purest state".

Benzema scored an extra-time penalty in Madrid's dramatic 3-1 second-leg win in their Champions League semi-final against Manchester City on Wednesday and is among the favourites for this year's Ballon d'Or.

The France striker has 43 goals and 14 assists in 43 games in all competitions this season, helping Los Blancos to the LaLiga title as well as the Champions League final, where they will play Liverpool.

Speaking to TMW, Guti – who played for Madrid between 1995 and 2010 – praised his former team-mate for replacing the goals of Cristiano Ronaldo, who left for Juventus in 2018.

"In his feet there is an incredible talent, but I did not expect this performance as a goalscorer," he said.

"He is giving a lot to a Real that, after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, needed goals. Benzema represents football in its purest state."

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