The greatest Champions League comeback of all time – there are no parallels. I know you Scousers will pepper me with disparaging remarks saying that Istanbul was at least an equal - it was a final against arguably the best backline ever assembled speaking of AC Milan. The difference is that Liverpool Football Club had 45 minutes to score three goals – FC Barcelona had seven.
I confess to almost turning away with ten minutes left; something I usually condemn as this is football – it’s a mysterious sport which at times has a feeling of spiritual grandeur that lifts the underdog to seemingly unsurmountable accomplishment. Make no mistake, the titanic juggernaut of Barcelona was the underdog in this match. Four goals down after the first leg in Paris facing a squad with truly world class players such as Edinson Cavani, Julian Draxler and arguably the finest defender in the world today in Brazilian Thiago Silva. Barcelona needed to win 5-0 for a clean victory with many other possible (impossible) scenarios.
From the beginning, I thought PSG were in for a self-inflicted challenging evening, mainly down to the inability of their manager, Unai Emery, to successfully navigate the tie from kick-off. They set-out playing a 4-5-1 and collapsed into their own third of the pitch trying to defend a four goal cushion. Every football person worth their salt knows that that you cannot expect to defend a lead for 90 minutes versus a front three of Neymar Junior, Luis Suarez and the mercurial Lionel Messi - with the engine of Andreas Iniesta lurking just behind. The aforementioned foursome has the ability to successfully take on multiples of themselves when needed. PSG is not Leyton Orient, they are defending Ligue 1 champions and their owners have pockets as deep as the Atlantic Ocean. This tie should have been dead from the off.
Attack for goodness sake – try and get an early goal to kill the crowd and eliminate any hope of Barcelona’s progression. I’m not saying they should have thrown caution to the wind but a balanced approach to the match was all that was needed. Barcelona has a sub-par backline that often loses discipline (see Javier Mascherano). Neglecting to pressurize played right into Barcelona’s hands.
Barcelona took a 2-0 lead into the second half, enough to give the confidence to an already raucous crowd that, supplemented by a few half time cervezas, came out blaring into the final 45. On 50 minutes the comeback was ‘officially on as Messi rifled his penalty past one of the most nervous looking goalkeepers I have seen in professional football, Kevin Trapp.
The killer blow should have been Cavani’s 62nd minute expertly finished volley past the outstretched arms of Ter Stegen. Barca now required three goals in 28 minutes – ‘inqualifiable’ the French paper L’equipe said.
Finally, PSG had gained their composure and hope began to evaporate in the Camp Nou. What seemed to be evolving into the greatest comeback of all time seemed destined for failure.
Never say never.
On 88 minutes Neymar Jr. curled an absolute peach of a free-kick into the corner past a yearning Trapp. On 90 minutes he scored his second on a penalty earned by Suarez. I heard complaints that it wasn’t a penalty from many, not to mention several PSG players – and maybe it wasn’t. The point was that it was another error in judgement from a PSG defender allowing Suarez to get on the wrong side of him. The game was dead, just keep your defender in-front of you and don’t put yourself in a position where you may give away a foul.
History was made on 94 minutes. Ter Stegen, yes the goalkeeper, won a foul around 40 yards out which failed to elude the PSG wall assembled on the 18 yard line. Neymar Jr. picked up the ball and deceived all 90,000 people in the stadium and the millions viewing on national television by dinking a sublime ball into the most potently threatening area on a football pitch – the penalty spot. Sergio Robero stretched with the foot of God and clipped the ball past a broken Trapp.
The insurmountable became conquered, the impossible became probable and the greatest football team in the history of the beautiful game carved their name 9 feet deep into the books of antiquity. When you look to explain the most pertinent accomplishment in the perfect sport we all love, look no further than Barcelona 6 – 1 Paris Saint Germain (6-5 aggregate).
'A team of believers' is what most of the Barcelona squad stated after the match. Put the greatest team on the planet on a pitch versus an incompetent strategy and the possibilities are endless. This game goes to show how the managerial influence one person and their backroom staff can have on a match is infinite. I don't blame Emery completely for the result however, the initial aura established through inviting pressure and allowing Barcelona to dictate the tempo of the match created a conviction in the whole of Barca nation that what seemed hopeless was in fact attainable.