Let’s be honest; if any team in World Football was capable of overturning a 4 goal defecit in the last 16 of the Champions League, it’s Barcelona. However, I am 99.9% certain there was not a single person on the planet that thought they’d get 3 goals in the last 10 minutes and score SIX in one evening, the winner being in the 95th minute of the game.
It was a night which no one will ever forget. From the very first second of the game, Barcelona suffocated Paris Saint Germain, the oil-rich side from the French capital who were so impressive in the first leg. Right from the very beginning, Barcelona looked like they were on a mission – hunting down in packs, determined to win the ball back ASAP, with even Messi, Neymar and Suarez relentlessly closing down the opposition. As each goal went in, the belief and noise from the near-100,000 people inside the Nou Camp grew louder and stronger. Unai Emery had the expression of a very, very worried man on the touchline. He knew what was happening.
But then, the sucker punch – or so everyone thought. As Barcelona piled the pressure on to find the fourth goal, PSG broke forward and the ball fell to Uruguayan hitman Edinson Cavani inside the Barcelona box and he smashed home what everyone thought was the killer blow, the crucial away goal, the decider. The stadium fell flat – except for the 1,000 or so PSG fans high up in the heavens who celebrated wildly. Barcelona had to find 3 goals in the remaining half an hour to qualify. Impossible, right?
As time ticked on, the hope faded. Neymar brilliantly dispatched a free kick in the 88th minute in what was no more than a consolation which meant so little at the time, given how long was left.
Then, the turning point. Suarez goes down in the box suspiciously, desperately looking over to the referee for a penalty. It’s given – Neymar took the responsibility and dispatched the penalty. Barca had 3 minutes to find the most unlikely of winners. The Nou Camp roared with expectation, belief and overwhelming emotion. PSG by this stage were in utter panic, with defenders of vast International and Champions League experience such as Thiago Silva looking shell shocked.
With 90+5 minutes on the clock, Barca throw everything at finding a winner. Ter Stegen – the Barca keeper – is told to get forward and make himself a nuisance – anything will do at this stage. Neymar picks up the ball around 25 yards out and floats a cross into the box which avoids every PSG head, falling to substitute Sergi Roberto’s foot on the penalty spot. It goes in, beating the goalkeeper Trapp. The stadium erupts into the most incredible mix of sound and celebration you will ever see at a sporting event – grown men crying, hugging each other, screaming and jumping. The boss, Luis Enrique, throws his coat aside and knee slides in celebration, looking like a man who had just won a year’s worth of lottery jackpots in one. Barca had done it.
With Unai Emery’s sterling European reputation in tatters after this, many wonder where the Parisians go from here. It is no secret that the owners at PSG picked Emery as their new coach because of his record in Europe – a title which the club desperately want and need if they are to be considered a European giant. Do they change management after this and start again, or put it down to an agonisingly painful experience to build upon for the future?
So where and how did Barca win it? Well, legendary comebacks require performances from the absolute elite, the players who have won the lot and know how to win a Football match by any means necessary. Whilst the likes of Neymar and Messi ran the show going forward, Pique and Busquets, the two legendary Catalan’s who have the club embedded in their DNA, gave Barca the base to build on. Busquets in particular found the form which has seen him become one of the greatest midfielders in the history of the game – positionally perfect with the composure and decision making of a true great. Neymar also produced 10 of the best minutes of football by an individual you will ever see – the pass to Roberto for the winner going relatively un-noticed, given the astonishing scenes which unfolded infront of us last night.
An incredible night.