Champions League: Comeback tales from near and far | Football News - Hindustan Times
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Champions League: Comeback tales from near and far

ByDhiman Sarkar, Kolkata
Apr 17, 2024 04:29 PM IST

PSG and Dortmund showed the importance of keeping the faith

“The team continues to believe and have faith. And they continue to think they can make it. And then you see what happens.” That was Luis Enrique analysing a Champions League comeback. In 2017.

Paris Saint-Germain's French forward #07 Kylian Mbappe (Top) and teammates celebrate after winning the UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg against FC Barcelona(AFP)
Paris Saint-Germain's French forward #07 Kylian Mbappe (Top) and teammates celebrate after winning the UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg against FC Barcelona(AFP)

The one his team scripted on Tuesday wasn’t as dramatic but Paris St-Germain (PSG) will not mind. Neither team scored thrice in seven minutes late in the game and Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr and Luis Suarez don’t even play in the same continent. If they score four, we will score six, Enrique had said then. Barcelona did exactly that and PSG were eliminated from the Champions League.

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Seven seasons of hurt ended with a 4-1 win on the night and 6-4 on aggregate after PSG trailed in the second leg and the tie. Maybe this is an indication that they aren’t bottle-jobs anymore. Maybe they have learnt from that defeat to Barcelona and to Real Madrid in 21-22. And they definitely look better than they did during the 0-3 aggregate loss to Bayern last term. “This is our level,” Mbappe had said. That was the fifth time in seven years PSG had lost in the first knockout round of the Champions League.

After the bizarre yet brilliant night at Camp Nou in March 2017, Enrique had said that football is for mad, crazy people. It felt that when Kylian Mbappe hurdled over hoardings to where the visiting team fans sat at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys where Barcelona play because of renovation and expansion work at Camp Nou. Those who were there would remember the night for the rest of their lives, Enrique had said. You can bet the travelling PSG fans will too.

Mbappe was on a yellow card when he had embarked on the run after his eighth Champions League goal for the season. Twice, Marc-Andre ter Stegen had thwarted PSG but when Jules Kounde’s poor clearance took a deflection and fell kindly for Mbappe, the Barcelona goalkeeper could do nothing. It was in the 89th minute and maybe because PSG had pulled ahead by three goals, Mbappe was spared a second booking. He and Paris can still have a beautiful farewell after which Barcelona might have to see a lot more of him.

Anonymous for most of the tie, Mbappe still had two goals. The first came from a 61st minute penalty when Joao Cancelo felled Ousmane Dembele and took PSG ahead after they had begun the night trailing 2-3. By then, PSG were living Enrique’s motto about not giving up. True, the tie had turned after Ronald Araujo’s red card. Bradley Barcola, in whom Enrique had trusted enough to give the 21-year-old a start, went to ground after Araujo, so adept along with Pau Cubarsi at stopping Mbappe in Paris, tried to stop him with his hand.

The free-kick was wasted but PSG had a foot in the door. Barcelona ended with less possession and three shots on target to PSG’s nine. The decision to stop Barcola with his hand was possibly the poorest of the night, if not the tie especially, because as the central defender was to claim, Cubarsi was covering. A goal up but a player down by the 29th minute would prove to be too much. Especially because the precocious Lamine Yamal had to be sacrificed.

“That changes everything, that should not have been a red card,” said Xavi whose farewell game in Europe was marred by the manager being sent off for dissent.

Dembele equalised after Barcola found him with a delivery Mbappe couldn’t connect. Cancelo had not seen him fetch up and an extra microsecond was all the former Barcelona attacker, loudly booed throughout the game, needed. PSG had started strongly but it wasn’t till the 40th minute that Raphinha’s 12th minute goal had been cancelled. The Brazilian had struck after Achraf Hakimi arrived late to prevent him from guiding in Yamal’s pass delivered after a strong run that had left Nuno Mendes trailing, Vitinha levelled the tie in the 54th minute with a shot from range after Barcelona were late in breaking out to defend a corner-kick taken short. Like Dembele and Raphinha, he had scored in both legs.

Ilkay Guendogan, Raphinha and Robert Lewandowski came close to forcing extra-time but after some ordinary form in Champions League knockout games, Gianluigi Donnarumma would have find remembrances of this night. Now, on the other side, PSG manager Enrique said: “The players kept the faith.”

Comebacks make for some of sport’s most riveting stories because of that – keeping the faith in the face of growing odds. It was what Jos Buttler said he did hours before PSG and Borussia Dortmund erased deficits to go deeper in Europe (Dortmund beat Atletico Madrid 5-4 on aggregate after losing the first leg 1-2). Wickets fell around him, the asking rate had climbed to 16, the target an imposing 224, Eden an intimidating shade of deep purple, the night hot and humid but “real key” to the 60-ball 107 was to “keep believing.” Miracles can happen when players do that. Tuesday was proof.

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