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Football: Barca, Man United share thrilling Europa League draw

BARCELONA – Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag said he could not understand why Barcelona’s Jules Kounde was not sent off for his challenge on Marcus Rashford in their 2-2 Europa League play-off draw on Thursday.

Marcos Alonso put the hosts ahead shortly after the break, before a Rashford strike and an own goal by Kounde gave United the lead in the first leg at the Nou Camp. Raphinha then levelled for Barcelona when his cross eluded David de Gea.

Ten Hag was furious in the second half when Rashford went down under a challenge from Kounde, who was the last man, but the referee waved away claims for a foul and VAR backed the decision.

Barcelona equalised soon after.

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“I have to make the point that it’s a big influence, not only on this game but on this round,” said the Dutchman, who received a yellow card for protesting against the decision on the touchline.

“You can discuss if it’s in the box or outside, but definitely it’s a red card.

“I asked the referee why and he said ‘it was outside the box and it was no foul’.

“It was a really bad decision and I can’t understand.”

United and Barcelona are two of the most in-form teams in Europe and delivered a remarkable spectacle, with ten Hag’s men going all out amid a daunting Nou Camp atmosphere.

United headed into the clash with just one defeat in their previous 17 games – including 14 wins – in all competitions, while Barca lead Real Madrid by 8 points at the top of La Liga and had conceded only seven goals in 21 league games.

“(We should have been) more clinical finishing chances,” ten Hag added of his side, whose two goals scored against Barcelona at their home ground is a remarkable feat in itself.

“The disappointment is we didn’t score them, we should have scored a minimum of four goals.

“I think it was a great game. Two attacking teams, I think it was a Champions League game. We have to finish it in Old Trafford.”

At the end of a tight first half, Barcelona lost midfield maestro Pedri to a thigh injury and they will be without Gavi in the second leg on Thursday after he was booked.

Following Alonso’s goal in the 50th minute, Rashford pulled United level with a sharp near-post finish.

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It was the English striker’s 14th goal in his last 16 games across all competitions and his 22nd of the season.

United took the lead before the hour mark when Rashford drove into the box and his cross was flicked on, with Kounde shouldering the ball into his own net.

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This time, Barcelona battled back to level, with Raphinha curling a vicious cross into the area which flew into the far corner.

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez was also furious with refereeing decisions, saying that his side should have been awarded a penalty when Fred handled a Sergi Roberto effort with the score at 2-2.

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“It seems incredible to me,” he said of the incident. “They said VAR had checked it. It’s a stolen penalty.

“I don’t know why they don’t whistle for penalties for handball now.” REUTERS, AFP

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