Substitute Sergi Roberto scored a dramatic late goal as Barcelona pulled off the biggest comeback in UEFA Champions League history to pip Paris Saint-Germain to the quarter-finals.
Beaten 4-0 in the first leg, Barça set out determined to become the first team in UEFA club competition history to overcome that deficit – and their hopes of a famous ‘remontada’ began taking tangible form when Luis Suárez beat Kevin Trapp to a bouncing ball and headed just over the goal line with less than three minutes gone.
Worse was to come for a Paris team struggling to make an impact when Andrés Iniesta bustled through to the byline on to Suárez’s flicked pass and back-heeled a pass which Layvin Kurzawa inadvertently knocked beyond Kevin Trapp.
Lionel Messi then converted a penalty after Thomas Meunier had pulled down Neymar as Barça made a blistering start to the second half to move within a goal of parity, but Edinson Cavani, who had hit the post moments earlier, seemingly put the tie to bed when he blasted high into the net after 62 minutes.
That sucked the intensity from the game, Cavani only denied a second by Ter Stegen’s boot when clean through and Ángel Di María taking too long in another one on one, but Neymar brought the tie back to life again in the 88th minute with a superb free-kick. The Brazilian fired in a spot kick after Marquinhos was penalised for impeding Suárez to set up an incredible finale.
The hosts needed a single goal once again, and had five minutes of added time in which to find it. In the very last of them, Neymar lifted a pass over the defence and substitute Roberto stabbed it in to spark euphoria in the Camp Nou stands.
Key player: Neymar (Barcelona)
This remarkable result would have been impossible without the full contribution of every player, but nobody had a greater hand in the thrilling climax than Neymar. Having already caught the eye with a sublime curled effort just wide of the target in the first half, the Brazil forward brought his team back from the dead with a wonderful free-kick and set Paris nerves jangling again from the penalty spot. Fittingly, it was he who then set up Sergi Roberto for an unbelievable finish.
Roberto’s finest hour
In choosing not to use either Sergi Roberto or Jordi Alba in midfield it always meant that Barça’s attacking power would be increased but, if Paris could threaten the full-back positions, then Ivan Rakitić and Neymar could be forced into unfamiliar defensive duties. Once the advantage was 3-0 and Unai Emery decided to roll the dice himself, Barcelona’s risk was exposed sufficiently for the visitors to exploring the defensive Achilles heel, get in behind and wrench back control of the tie. And then Roberto came on. He was part of one of Barcelona’s all time great UEFA Champions League wins, away to Real Madrid in the 2011 semi-final, but this, you’d have to say, topped it. Super sub? Super Sergi? Super football. “If they scored four, we can score six,” said Luis Enrique. Boy oh boy he was right.
Paris spurn their lifeline
So thrilling as they picked apart Barcelona in the first leg, Paris were more or less unrecognisable from the first whistle at the Camp Nou. Timid from the off, they too readily invited pressure and suffered in the face of Barça’s ferocious pressing game. Unai Emery’s side struggled to string more than a couple of passes together, but worst of all they switched off after seemingly putting the tie beyond Barcelona thanks to Cavani’s goal. That strike ought to have ended the contest; instead, Paris took the result for granted and let their focus slip yet again. This time, it was fatal.
Graham Hunter, Barcelona (@BumperGraham)
When you interview the Barça players of this era they’ll tell you that for all the skill, passing, technique and high-quality signings there’s one element which has been a little underestimated during the seasons when they’ve repeatedly won the domestic title and three UEFA Champions League finals since 2009: the competitive spirit. To keep a group of largely the same players hungry and committed year after year has been remarkable. And, with their first exit at this stage since 2007 looming, that competitive spirit came to the rescue once again.
Chris Burke, Paris report (@UEFAcomChrisB)
After the euphoria of their 4-0 home win, Paris must now nurse the bitter pain of tonight’s 6-1 Camp Nou calamity. This was meant to be a fairly straightforward mission – the tie that proved they had become title candidates – but instead the French champions seem as far away from a maiden UEFA Champions League trophy as ever. Paris will be haunted by this match for a very, very long time, and the inevitable inquest is certain to make harsh reading for Unai Emery and his players. Losses like this come at a cost.