Both fans and pundits alike didn’t give the five-time European winners much of a chance after their 4-0 loss at Paris in the first leg. No team had ever overturned a four-goal deficit in the history of competition and some PSG players like former Real Madrid attacker Angel Di Maria even took the opportunity of writing an early obituary for the Catalan giants. “My friends in Madrid have already congratulated me,” said Di Maria after the first leg.
One individual who never gave up hope though was Barca manager Luis Enrique. The Spaniard had come in for plenty of flak recently with traditionalists not approving his direct style of play, in contradiction to the club’s identity or footballing philosophy. Criticism of his methods had reached fever pitch, prompting the former midfield-general to step down as manager after three trophy-laden seasons.
Ahead of the second leg, Enrique, who will leave the club after June 30, issued a rallying cry to his troops and said: “If they can score four against us then why can’t we score six? In 95 minutes anything can happen.” He turned out to be spot on with Luis Suarez heading in the opening goal of the night in the 3rd minute. Layvin Kurzawa then put through his own net shortly before half-time to make it 2-0 for Barca at the break.
Lionel Messi netted a penalty with conviction minutes after the restart to cut the French champions’ aggregate lead to 4-3. However, an Edison Cavani goal for PSG just beyond the hour mark put them back in the driver’s seat and made them favourites to progress to the next round with the added advantage of an away goal. Step forward, Neymar. The Brazilian sensation, considered Messi’s heir, has not always lived up to expectations but on Wednesday Neymar decided to take his game to another level.
A tired and weary PSG defence struggled to deal with the Brazilian in the closing stages of the game as the 25-year-old grabbed the game by the scruff of its neck. He executed a beautiful free-kick two minutes from full-time that left PSG’s goalkeeper Kevin Trapp rooted to his spot as the ball crashed into the back of the net.
The Brazilian superstar soon levelled the tie on aggregate from the spot, with five minutes of stoppage-time remaining. A man for the big occasions, Neymar then provided a magnificent ball over the top of the French club’s defence for Sergi Roberto to score the winner inside the 95th minute – bang on schedule according to Enriaue – and send the home crowd into raptures as football fans witnessed one of the greatest comebacks, if not the greatest in the history of the sport.