Sergi Roberto struck with virtually the last kick of the game sending Barcelona through to the last eight of the Champions League. Facing an impossible task of being 4-0 down to Paris Saint-Germain after the first leg and then facing a 5-3 deficit with just 28 minutes remaining Barca needed more than a miracle.
However, while the world will marvel at Barcelona’s three goals in the final seven minutes of the match, what should not be ignored is PSG’s mental frailties. It was on a plate for the French powerhouse and it seemed for all the world they would shatter their mental block with manager Unai Emery on the touchline. The former Sevilla manager was seen as the secret weapon to guiding PSG through the tie after going toe-to-toe with Barcelona many times when in charge in Seville.
However, it was not to be. Yet another cross examination will be carried out by PSG’s hierarchy on how this collection of extraordinary talented individuals cannot band together and dig in when they are required to.
The collapse against Luis Enrique’s side evoked memories of their 2014 capitulation against Chelsea in the quarter-finals. After winning the first leg commandingly 3-1, with Javier Pastore scoring in injury time to ‘all but put the tie beyond Chelsea’, the Parisians collapsed in London as Demba Ba netted an 87th minute strike to send Jose Mourinho’s side through on away goals.
In 2013 Paris faced Barcelona in what would soon become a European rivalry. After Blaise Matuidi struck deep in injury time in the Parc des Princes to give PSG a fighting chance when heading back to the Nou Camp the French outfit then shrunk in the spotlight again. After taking the lead through Pastore the Catalans struck back through Pedro. The scoreline will forever read 1-1 and that Barca advance via the away goals rule but the reality paints a different picture, PSG were in control of the game – on a night when Lionel Messi was relegated to the bench, still recovering from a thigh injury. But when the chances came PSG could not take them and inevitably succumbed to Barcelona’s will.
This time the autopsy will take on a different manner. No team had ever come back from a 4-0 first leg deficit to emerge victorious in a Champions League tie. Trailing 3-0 it seemed Barca would at least take the game into extra time, and then the Nou Camp fell silent as Edinson Cavani expertly lashed his shot past Marc-Andre ter Stegan putting Paris Saint-Germain firmly back in control and only needing to resist for 28 more minutes with Barca requiring a trio of strikes to get through – even the most die-hard Catalan must have thought it was over. To go from 4-0 to 4-3 with an hour still to play is a collapse in its own right, but to then leave Messi and company needing another 3 goals after Cavani made it 3-1 on the night – and still lose- is a catastrophe like no other.
Emery’s stay in Paris may be a short one after domestic dominance is now being challenged with PSG chasing the pack, rather than setting the insurmountable pace, in Ligue 1 and being dumped out of Europe’s elite club competition in the most extraordinary fashion.
Perhaps such a failure felt inevitable, Barcelona have rarely felt like the team of five or six years ago, yet all week the players and their manager maintained unwavering faith: “If they can score four we can score six” remarked Enrique with Neymar adding “It is practically impossible. But we cannot give up.” Barca did not give up – in the week Luis Enrique told the press and his players he would be stepping down at the end of the season the miraculous turnaround felt like the players did it for their departing manager.
PSG by comparison felt like a 3-1 defeat would be job done, even 4-1 or 5-1. After all they had the all-important away goal and all that mattered was getting through the tie. After realising they were in a game after Messi’s penalty made it 3-0 on the night and had social media exploding with ‘they couldn’t, could they?’ PSG fell complacent – even conceited – after their star striker netted what should have been the final nail in Barcelona’s Champions League coffin.
The difference between the great and the very good were encapsulated in 185 pulsating minutes. Barcelona’s stars banned together as a true team refusing to give in – for PSG the questions once again musts be asked of leadership, selflessness and gut. It truly was a night of history for both teams, and for polarising reasons, one they shall both never forget.