Magical Neymar sparks greatest European comeback of them all

Barcelona 6 - PSG 1 (6-5 on agg): Neymar was the hero for Barcelona last night as the Catalans made history by becoming the first team ever to overcome a 0-4 first leg deficit — beating Paris Saint Germain 6-1 on the night with the last few minutes of the game seeing the Brazilian score twice and set up a 95th winner for substitute Sergi Roberto.

Magical Neymar sparks greatest European comeback of them all

Barca’s win looked very unlikely before kick-off, and almost impossible as the clock ticked towards the 90 minutes — until Neymar then took over.

His superb free kick on 88 minutes seemed at the time just the last dying kick from a team who had won on the night, but paid for their awful showing in being hammered 4-0 in Paris in last month’s first leg.

But Neymar was not finished yet. He calmly converted a penalty as the game moved past the 90 minute mark, and then showed outstanding composure in the very last play of the game to dummy a cross, drawing out the entire PSG defence, and chip in a perfect assist for the just onside Sergi Roberto to get there before visiting goalkeeper Kevin Trapp.

“Nobody gave up believing, after seeing how spectacularly the team had played during the game,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. “We took many risks, but it was worth it as these things can happen in football. There was so much emotion, intensity, being behind for so long, and then coming back in five minutes. The key was the faith the team had, even at the end, keeping insisting all the way.”

Enrique had said pre-game that if PSG could score four against them, then his side could score six against the Ligue 1 side. And Luis Suarez gave the home fans hope of turning the tie around by capitalising on a PSG defensive mess on just two minutes, and the Camp Nou grew even more excited when Layvin Kurzawa sliced the ball into his own net just before half time.

When Lionel Messi netted a penalty early in the second half it seemed the Catalans were on their way. But they were always overstretched at the back and Edinson Cavani scored what seemed the night’s key goal just past the hour mark.

Sevilla coach Unai Emery had shown superb tactical nous in the first leg, with Angel Di Maria leading a high pressing, fast striking game which just ripped Barca apart. Last night the Spanish coach chose a much more cautious plan, sitting deep and looking to soak up Barca’s pressure. At no time did it seem to be working well, and it ended up being the most embarrassing night of his career and possibly his club’s entire history.

With Barca also happy to push right up the pitch, at times the effect was almost comical with all 20 outfield players inside a tightly compressed area in the PSG half. Luis Enrique had chosen a 3-3-1-3 formation, and at one point with the game at 1-0 one of his three centre-backs, Javier Mascherano, got to the byline to cross for another who was waiting in the penalty box [Gerard Pique].

That cross was blocked away. And Emery might argue that by packing the centre of the pitch he had most nullified the danger of Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta linking up and playing one-twos. Barca actually created very few chances in open play — with their six goals coming from just nine shots on target.

Their first goal was a total systems breakdown with centre-back Marquinhos and goalkeeper Kevin Trapp the most to blame. The second was possibly even worse, as Kurzawa sliced the ball to his own net.

Messi was supposed to be the only one who could turn the tie around, but he was not a big influence on the first half, although he hammered in the early second half penalty to make it 3-0.

At 3-1 on the night Barca’s momentum fizzled away, and for a while their efforts grew more and more ragged.

But Barca kept their belief, and got their game going again. Neymar was everywhere, tormenting Munier in attack. In midfield the supposedly past-it Sergio Busquets was also immense, completely dominating PSG’s potential emerging star midfielders Marco Verratti and Julien Rabiot, who were unable to put two passes together for long spells of the game.

This was not the tiki-taka stylings of the Pep Guardiola Barca side which wowed Europe a few years back. The victory did not come from any tactical genius from current blaugrana coach Enrique, but instead from snatches of individual inspiration allied to the heart and grit which the team showed last night.

They will hope for less last-gasp drama in the next round, but the main thing was they were through.

Thanks to Neymar.

BARCELONA:

Ter Stegen 7; Mascherano 7, Pique 6, Umtiti 7; Busquets 9, Rakitic 7, Iniesta 7; Messi 7; Rafinha 5, Suarez 6, Neymar 10.

Subs:

Arda Turan 6, Sergi Roberto 8.

PSG:

Trapp 5; Meunier 5, Marquinhos 6, Thiago Silva 7, Kurzawa 5; Matuidi 4, Rabiot 5, Verratti 5; Lucas Moura 4, Cavani 7, Draxler 5.

Subs:

Di Maria 6, Aurier 5.

Ref:

Deniz Aytekin (Germany).

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