When I first started writing this match report in the eighty-fifth minute, it read a familiar script for so many sides in the UEFA Champions League. A horrendous first leg performance, followed by a plucky second-leg which was oh, so close, but oh so far. Following their 4-0 capitulation at the Parc de Prince, Barcelona looked like they were going to play the titular role in this tragedy.
On the other hand, it’s Barcelona, and more importantly, Luiz Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar. MSN. They knew they owed the fans a performance, coming off a 5-0 thrashing of a solid Celta Vigo outfit on Saturday.
Luis Enrique, criticised by Scene Sports Editor Tom Morgan following his resignation, was bullish before the game. He believed. And his belief seemed justified in the third minute. Rafinha’s cross deflected off Blaise Matuidi, bounced into the air and came to Suarez, who nodded it just over the line. Game on. The barrage had begun, with Messi and Suarez once again going close with superb curling efforts. But in the fortieth minute, the dream really did seem real. Iniesta’s brilliant touch and backheel deflected off Layvin Kurzawa, leaving Kevin Trapp in the Paris Saint Germain goal helpless. The atmosphere at half time was electric. Could they do it?
But if it was still a hazy vision at that point, it became a genuine reality in the fiftieth minute. Iniesta’s brilliant outside-of-the-boot flick released Neymar, and the slip from Thomas Meunier led to him taking the Brazilian down using his head. A bizarre foul, which was only eventually given following the 5th Officials advice. It was perhaps equally rare to see them do something useful. Lionel Messi stepped up. His penalty record is chequered at best, and no doubt some people will remember his legendary penalty onto the crossbar in the 2012 match against Chelsea. But this time, Argentinean wizard smashed it in on the right hand side.
Barcelona had Paris penned in, as they hunted like hungry wolves in a pack. They believed. Matuidi, Rabiot, Verrati who had all starred in the stunning performance two weeks prior were like statues. And yet, they should have all but sealed the tie in the sixty-second minute. A deep free kick was nodded back by Kurzawa as he beat Ivan Rakitic in the air and Edinson Cavani, who now has thirty-eight goals in thirty-seven games for the Parisian club this season slammed in the volley. A great roar from the Paris fans and jubilant celebrations from the travelling fans. The Camp Nou faithful were silent. Barcelona needed three more. Ter Stegen kept the tie alive a minute later with a brilliant save from the Uruguayan striker.
A flurry of substitutions and yellow cards followed, as frustration boiled over for Suarez, Neymar and Rakitic. Angel Di Maria, a second half substitution should have sealed the tie, but blazed it wide following a challenge from behind by Gerard Pique. The clock ticked into the eighty-fifth minute as Serge Aurier produced an insane block from Neymar. It just didn’t look Barcelona had anything left in them.
The eighty-eighth minute. Neymar, twenty-five yards out was fouled clumsily by Matuidi. The resulting free kick was arched brilliantly into the top corner from Barcelona’s number eleven, described by one commentator as like a ‘tracer bullet.’ Trapp didn’t even move. Surely they couldn’t?
The eighty-ninth minute. Luis Suarez marauded into the box, Marquinhos shoved him. Replays showed the contact was minimal. It won’t faze Suarez, who attracts controversy like a magnet. Neymar stepped up and stroked it calmly into the left hand side of the goal. The Camp Nou was roaring once more, they believed once again. Five minutes of added time were given, Krychowiak came on for PSG in an attempt to waste time. Luis Enrique poured his players forward, urging them up. His opposite number, Unai Emery had been frantically waving his players back.
The ninety-fifth minute. A free kick forty yards out. Every player in the Paris eighteen yard box, even goalkeeper Ter Stegen, who effectively had played as sweeper-keeper since the fifth goal was scored.
Surprisingly, it was taken short to Neymar, then dinked into the box. Step up Sergi Roberto. The academy product at Barcelona, who had been hung out to dry in the first leg, forced to play in the unfamiliar right-back position and destroyed by the collective efforts of the fluidity of Julian Draxler, Angel Di Maria and Lucas Moura in Paris. A right-foot volley from the unmarked midfield about twelve yards out, which sailed past Kevin Trapp. It seemed to take an eternity to hit the net, but Roberto was off celebrating instantly. His first goal of the season was certainly a memorable one. Fans were crying on both sides, one for jubilation, the other in sorrow. Unai Emery, grey-faced looked like he wanted the ground to swallow him up.
The final whistle saw intense scenes of emotion from the Barcelona staff, players and fans. It will undoubtedly go down in history. The first time since 2000 that PSG had conceded over five goals would go as down as the greatest Champions League comeback ever.
Tonight they created the greatest comeback ever seen in European Football. Forget United in 1999. Never mind Istanbul 2005. Sweep aside Chelsea in Camp Nou in 2012. It was a truly electric and stunning performance. Barcelona tore Paris Saint Germain to pieces, and through a mix of luck, skill and pure, raw willpower produced the greatest comeback of all time. It was fittingly crowned by the man who was so criticised after the first leg, with almost the final touch of the game.
For Paris Saint Germain, they leave at the last sixteen once more, and once more, they leave at the hands of the Catalan giants. They were supposed to be through already, it was supposed to be an academic, meaningless match. But never say never, when you can rely on Suarez, Messi and Neymar.