BARCELONA, March 9: “Football, Bloody Hell,” as someone who also enjoyed a very famous night in this evocative stadium once said. This game never fails. Never fails to cut through the hype, the money, the cynicism, the commercialism, to become a sport again. It is why we play it, watch it, talk about it, and why we write about it.
This was a game that will resonate; a match that goes down in history. It was the first time ever in the Champions League that a team had overcome a four-goal deficit. But it was more than that. It was so, so much more than that as the disbelieving looks on the players, the staff, coaches, fans of Barcelona showed. This club, these players, have done everything. But they have never done this.
Even the stoniest of hearts will feel for Paris Saint-Germain, this fledgling team who were overwhelmed, despite their formidable advantage coming into this second leg. They scored a precious away goal, which should have ended it, then missed two golden chances and somehow conceded three times in the final eight minutes, including five added minutes. This will hit them and their coach, Unai Emery, hard. Glory turned to dust.
That explanation, though, does not do justice. But, then, what does? Barca had managed to get themselves three goals in front after 50 minutes and the impossible seemed possible, seemed probable, before they conceded. Then it emphatically appeared over and it was only on 88 minutes that Neymar scored the first of his goals, before creating the decisive third with effectively the last kick of the match and with goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen having abandoned his role as he played as a striker.
These are two of the biggest, wealthiest clubs in world football with huge financial backing. But it boiled down to a desperate football match – desperate because of the desire to win not because of the quality, which was brilliant – and a flood of emotion as PSG were over-wrought and Barca were left with nothing but naked competitiveness and some wonderful, remarkable skill to see them through.
Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi all scored and it was a night when they had to reassert themselves; when Barca had to reassert themselves and show defiantly that reports of their demise, that the obituaries, are premature. They are. Wildly premature on this evidence. The decisive goal was scored, by the way, by a local boy, substitute Sergi Roberto.
They needed luck, they had to have luck, and PSG’s first-half implosion helped. But Barca also forced that. “Tots Amb L’Equip” read a big – huge – banner unfurled on halfway. Everyone with the team. It was a plea for monumental effort, for giving everything and also for unity, after the fractures of this season, and they got that.
Even before that there had been a simmering sense that maybe, just maybe, something incredible could be achieved, although that was tempered by the calibre of opponent they faced and the danger they could bring. That was evidenced when Julian Draxler broke and screamed for a penalty – not given – when his low cross struck Javier Mascherano’s arm as he slid.
It was wave after wave of Barca attack and PSG desperately tried to reach the safe haven of half-time with no further damage done. But they could not. Again it was a chaotic goal with Suarez and Andres Iniesta combining down the left with the latter, after Marquinhos had inexplicably gifted possession back to him, back-heeling towards goal from a tight angle and Layvin Kurzawa panicking as he attempted to clear with the ball spinning up off his thigh and into the net.
The third arrived in the second half and it came from Messi’s boot, a penalty driven powerfully to Trapp’s right, after Thomas Meunier had slipped and was deemed to have brought down Neymar as he cut into the area. The decision was given not by the referee – German Denis Aytekin, who will come in for criticism as he may have buckled to Barca pressure as the game unfolded – but his assistant behind the goal.
Emery then called on Angel Di Maria. The winger made a difference and a free-kick was lofted forward with Kurzawa heading it back into the path of Cavani who improvised to hit a half-volley high and beyond Ter Stegen.
The air went out of Barca’s balloon; for a while. Now it was all-out-attack and both Cavani and, more culpably, Di Maria failed to finish when through on goal, but the clock was nevertheless running down.
It needed something miraculous and Neymar provided it as he picked himself up after being fouled and delivered a superb free-kick that deceived Trapp and whipped inside the near post.
The defiance lifted further when Barca won another penalty – should it have been given? – for a push on Suarez. Neymar took this one and beat Trapp and, as he struck, the board went up showing five minutes of added time.
Five minutes. It suddenly felt a long time but it was in the last seconds that Neymar flighted over the ball and there was Sergi Roberto to reach it and volley into the net. They did it in Fergie time.THE TELEGRAPH