It will take days and weeks to process what happened at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night. Was it the greatest comeback for Barcelona or choke by PSG of all time?
Wednesday night’s amazing Champions League match at the Camp Nou is still scorching hot and many takes will be written over the next hours, days and weeks about what exactly happened. Why did PSG choke so appallingly and when did FC Barcelona learn to play this epic style of football? But, actually, the most relevant question was already made in this same column three weeks ago: was Barça’s legendary upset (6-1) really that unexpected?
Paris Saint-Germain showed up for Wednesday’s game with one of the most cowardly predispositions ever seen on a Champions League pitch. The French side were utterly frozen, absolutely intimidated by the roaring crowd and the high-level team they were about to clash with. No trace whatsoever of the mighty squad that mopped the floor with Messi and company three weeks earlier. Their manager, Unai Emery, psychotically agitated every part of his body on the sidelines. Not the best prospect when entering Barça’s lair.
Five minutes into the game, Luis Enrique’s side was already leading 1-0. A sneaky Suarez used his wits to outsmart Trapp, who managed to spend the whole night grasping for flies but never making any significant saves. The Blaugranas took their sweet time, never rushing it, and tried to build on their early goal. Neymar was brutally efficient on the wing, an absolute beast of a player who managed to inspire most of the dangerous plays and push PSG slowly but steadily back into their own box.
When the local side’s strength seemed to waver, Andrés Iniesta appeared from nowhere to pursue an impossible ball, snatch it from the defender and use his heel to produce one of his magic tricks: the rebound hit on Layvin Kurzawa and the defender, inexplicably, ended up scoring in his own goal.
With 2-0 on the scoreboard, the half-time gave the local side a few minutes to renew their faith on achieving the impossible, while Unai Emery predictably would try to put some bandages to stop (some) of the bleeding.
Not that it worked, though: five minutes into the second half, a half-assed penalty (the ref was quite kind to the local side throughout the game, a giver in any kind of comeback with this level of epicness) allowed Leo Messi to put the third one into the net and drive his team one goal away from drawing on aggregate. Camp Nou was roaring with electricity as the team kept pushing PSG to its side of the pitch, although Angel Di María had come off the bench and started creating some ruckus on the wing.
In one of these plays, while Barça insisted on playing suicidally with a very lax defence, the night could have found an abrupt end: Edison Cavani, who usually smells the blood with keen hunger, finished one of the only proper team plays the French side could produce throughout the game with a beautiful strike.
That was a 3-1 game. For a single moment, you could hear the proverbial heart of 90.000 fans breaking at the same time.
Stunned after allowing a goal that forced them to score three more, Barça’s players walked the fine line between giving up and refusing to surrender. Their morale struggled. Luis Enrique tried using the bench and adding some skill in the midfield with Arda Turán and André Gomes. Cavani, once again, had the shovel at hand and could have buried any extra chance of a comeback, but Ter Stegen’s foot denied the Uruguayan’s second goal. Barça was dizzy and in the brink of getting knocked down for good.
Then, football happened.
Words will never make justice to the utter madness that swirled and swooped the twenty-two players and refereeing team in the final stretch. But it all began with a free-kick, masterfully executed by Neymar Junior, arguably last night’s MVP and who rounded off one of the most impressive individual performances of this season. His screamer in the 87th minute allowed Barça to regain some scraps of hope, which would turn into huge pools of excitement when a penalty on Luis Suarez was called by the ref. Neymar, once again, didn’t miss.
And there we were. With five minutes of injury time to go, an absolutely speechless Unai Emery on the sidelines, Luis Enrique incapable of standing still and with Barça on full throttle, an epic night needed an equally epic ending. PSG showed its lack of fundamental football knowledge to cool down the game and secure the win: in the last eight minutes of the game, their players made four passes… and three of them came from kick-offs after conceding a goal. Scandalous. And pitiful.
With Ter Stegen on the offence and 90.000 fans pushing with all their collective spirit, Neymar (who else?) dribbled and lobbed the ball into the box. It was literally the last play of the game. Sergi Roberto, who had come in from the bench, ran after the ball and stretched his right leg with everything he had.
When the ball brushed against the net, it was madness. They had done it.
Once again, many essays will be written about such a riotous game. Unai Emery and his team will be destroyed by fans and media in an absolutely deserved manner, as PSG’s performance will go down as one of the most ridiculous chokes in the history of the competition. They totally buckled under the pressure. Suffering this kind of beating after winning 4-0 three weeks ago seemed impossible, but it happened, and the effects will have a long impact inside the French camp.
But, leaving the poor Paris team aside, true credit needs to be given to a FC Barcelona who just wouldn’t give up, who didn’t play a beautiful game, but was bloodily committed to getting the job done. And who, after performing the biggest comeback in sport in 2017 (head-to-head with the New England Patriots’ Superbowl win), has suddenly become a top contender to conquer the Treble (Champions League, La Liga and La Copa) when, a few hours ago, they seemed absolutely worn out.
Football is beautiful because of nights like this.