Barcelona miracle: Greatest comeback in history sinks PSG
Three goals in seven minutes caps the most incredible story the Champions League has ever seen
Barcelona 6 Paris Saint-Germain 1 [Barcelona win 6-5 on aggregate]
The Camp Nou on Wednesday evening witnessed one of the great matches in Champions League history and most definitely the greatest comeback as Barcelona did the impossible to make it into the last eight of the Champions League.
Three weeks ago Barcelona were dead and buried after being battered 4-0 by Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their tie. No club in the competition had overturned such a deficit but Barcelona have always dreamed big, and on Wednesday they turned their dreams into reality, thrashing PSG 6-1 to reach the quarter-finals for the tenth successive season.
Football is full of hyperbole but when Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu declared that the result "is a historic achievement that will be remembered forever" he wasn't getting carried away by emotion.
It was historic, and it will be remembered forever, not just in Catalan country, but also in Paris, where the wounds of Wednesday night's humiliation will take a long while to heal.
Bartomeu's opposite number at PSG, Nasser al-Khelaïfi, was visibly stunned as he talked to reporters. "To concede three goals in seven minutes when leading 3-1, that's very tough," he said. "I've yet to talk to the players, it's not the moment. Everybody is angry, that's normal."
Once the anger has dissipated, the PSG president will demand answers from his players and coach. How on earth did they squander a four-goal lead and how on earth can they pick themselves for the final few weeks of the season? Those are questions for the French side; for Barcelona there is the satisfaction at knowing they were able to find the answers to their own questions, pulling off the "miracle" that most believed beyond them.
It began after just three minutes when Luis Suarez headed the ball over the PSG line. It required goalline technology to confirm the goal was legitimate but there was no questions about the second, other than to ask how Andres Iniesta was given the space in the penalty area by Marquinhos to cross the ball and force Layvin Kurzawa to put into his own net.
Two-nil at the interval because 3-0 five minutes after the restart when Lionel Messi slammed home a penalty after Thomas Meunier was adjudged to have fouled Neymar.
The home fans were in heaven but they were dragged back to hell when Edinson Cavani cracked a vital away goal into the Barcelona net. It meant Messi and his men had to find three more goals in 30 minutes. An impossible task, surely?
Until two minutes from normal time it looked that way, but then Neymar struck a wonderful free kick past the stranded Kevin Trapp to make it 4-1, and then Suarez won a penalty with what looked suspiciously like a piece of play-acting. Neymar stepped up to slot the spot-kick and once more the Barcelona faithful began to believe there might be a miracle.
As the tie ticked into the last of the five minutes of stoppage time the sensational Neymar danced his way out of one tackle before lofting the ball over the heads of the PSG defence and into the path of Sergi Roberto. For a moment time seemed to stand still as Roberto ran onto the beautifully-weighted pass, stuck out a foot, and toe-poked the ball into the net.
The crowd, the world, went wild as Barcelona completed possibly the most incredible comeback in the history of football. "I cannot believe it," said Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic. "Today was crazy. This is Barcelona, the best team in the world and we want to continue our dream in the Champions League."
No one was as overjoyed with the result as Barcelona coach Luis Enrique, who last week announced he will be stepping down at the end of this season. Asked if he had really believed his side could do the impossible in the second leg, he replied: "When you have a team like this, made up of champions, that have won every title, everything is possible."
Can Barcelona succeed where Arsenal failed in Europe?
Arsenal have made history against Bayern Munich, but not in the way they intended. After the Gunners failed to mount the greatest comeback in Champions League history – instead enduring the greatest humiliation ever inflicted on an English team – the baton now passes to Barcelona.
The Spanish giants were thrashed 4-0 in the first leg of their tie with Paris Saint-Germain and are in need of a miracle in the second leg at the Camp Nou.
In the wake of the first leg defeat, the team were booed by their fans. Barca coach Luis Enrique did what Arsene Wenger has so far failed to do and announced he was leaving the club. But he still believes that his side have what it takes to produce a stunning comeback.
"In 95 minutes, an infinite amount of things can happen. I'm convinced we'll be close to qualifying," he said. "That isn't to say we will do it, but that we will be close... If they can score four goals against us, we can score six."
Their recent form suggests he may have a point. "The Spanish champions have scored 11 goals in their past two matches and conceded only one goal. They were back to their very best last Saturday as they defeated Celta Vigo 5-0, with Lionel Messi and Neymar scoring two wonderful goals," says the BBC.
The first leg of the tie was "shocking" to watch, says Jonathan Liew of the Daily Telegraph – a "watershed moment in the history of a great club".
But he says that "for all the turmoil off the pitch, for all the quixotic results on it, Barcelona are not in crisis. Three big wins have put them top of La Liga and even given them a faint hope of turning things around against PSG on Wednesday night."
If any team is capable of pulling off a miracle "it is this Barcelona", says Pako Ayestaran, in The Independent. "The team that has completed a perfect treble now needs to complete a perfect game, because it is unlikely Paris Saint-Germain will fail to score."
So how can Barcelona do it? Ayestaran should know as he was assistant Liverpool manager in 2005 when the Reds pulled off the Miracle of Istanbul, pulling back three goals in 45 minutes to beat AC Milan.
There are tactical and mental aspects, he says. "Mental strength is going to be so crucial in this match. It will be about how PSG players answer if Barca score first; how Barca respond if it is immediately difficult and don’t get that goal," he says.
Tactically Barcelona have evolved in the three weeks since defeat in France, he adds. "Luis Enrique has been experimenting – and, in the last two games against Sporting Gijon and Celta Vigo, excelling – with a new formation... They look so much more creative, so much more adventurous.
"For me, it has been the main evolution in Luis Enrique's time at the club, and of course comes just as he announces he's leaving."
Paradoxically, his departure could be the key, says Ayestaran. "By announcing he's going, there is maybe a security to try different things. And, even beyond the formation, everyone looks more focused, more alive – even Luis Enrique himself. It is like there is a release."