The Camp Nou was set ablaze last night with what is being called the biggest comeback story in the history of European football. Yet, the manner in which Barcelona secured 6 goals to head triumphant into the next stage of the UEFA Champions League, it could well have been dubbed the most questionable.
Having suffered a 4-0 upset in the first leg of the last 16 against a formidable PSG, the Catalans stepped before their home ground with mounting pressure on their backs and a lot of luck in their boots.
Luis Enrique’s team received stern criticism after their Parisian outing and were set to undergo their quickest Champions League exit since 2007 when they lost to Liverpool on away goals. Similarly, the 2017 domestic season has seen them fighting to hold the top spot with just one point between them and second place Real Madrid.
However, Barca’s fight was not quite snuffed-out.
The first breakthrough came at the 2’ mark when a looming cross by midfielder Rafinha was badly cleared, creating confusion in the French defence. An opportunity which Luis Suarez took a hold of with both front teeth, heading a soft lob over the slightly frantic Kevin Trapp. The first, but not last defensive mishap of the night.
The game seemed to slow down quite a bit until a sequence of seemingly harmless passes in the 40’ catapulted Andres Iniesta into the box. The veteran then effortlessly back-heeled a central pass which met a badly aimed clearance from PSG left back Layvin Kurzawa sealing the first half score at 2-0 for the home team.
At the break, it seemed that the Nou Camp’s eyes were not only on the home team, but also on the visitor’s defensive line; a line which seemed could falter at any moment, distant from any form of their previous games.
Barcelona’s third goal at the 50’ set the tone for the rest of the match. A stumbling Meunier fell in front of an eager-to-fall Neymar halting his run towards goal within the box. A reminder of what is wrong with football, but also a chance for Lionel Messi to step-up and add his name to the score sheet.
A glimmer of PSG’s home form was seen in the 62’ with a magnificent Cavani cannon bringing the score to 3-1 and 5-3 to PSG on aggregate. Yet as much as the French fought, and they did, the 88’ and 90’ brought two Neymar goals from set-pieces. The first an unstoppable free-kick from the left side of the box and the latter a penalty awarded for a very questionable foul on Luis ‘The Simulator’ Suarez.
With the score at 5-5 on aggregate, it seemed that an overtime miracle would have to be produced by the home side to erase the critical away-goal advantage garnered by the French. At the 94’ of 95 minutes, Sergi Roberto produced that miracle easing past a ball-watching defence and stretching his leg to meet a telegrammed cross by teammate Neymar.
The Spanish celebrations were plentiful and the French disappointment rife in the stadium. PSG coach Unai Emery felt his team could learn from this sour experience.
"Barcelona is capable of doing that. It was all or nothing for them in the final minutes", he said. "We need to learn from it".
Barcelona are now through to the quarter-finals where they’ll need a little bit more than questionable calls and defensive holes to be dubbed European champions.