Despite falling to a 1-0 defeat in the second leg, PSG secured its place in this year’s semifinals on away goals (3-3 on aggregate) and showed a maturity perhaps missing in past campaigns.
While the front three of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Angel Di Maria is undeniably one of the best forward lines in world football, questions have often been asked about the team’s resolve and its willingness to do the dirty work.
Those questions were answered emphatically against Bayern as PSG stood up to everything the reigning European champion threw at them, adding pragmatism to its tricks and flicks.
“Football is such a beautiful game but it’s also a game in which you never give up and you have to fight,” said PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino after the game.
He added: “We were very focused. It was a really tough match. I’m really happy because the players deserve big credit. To win and qualify for the semifinals is an amazing moment for us.”
Bayern miss Lewandowski
With all the money spent at PSG in recent years, its Qatari owners expect the team to win the Champions League soon. Managers — and players — have come and gone as the club looks for the perfect winning formula and the celebrations at full-time on Tuesday were telling.
Neymar, who despite hitting the woodwork twice in the first half was talismanic throughout, was visibly fired up and appeared to celebrate with teammate Leandro Paredes right in the face of Bayern’s Joshua Kimmich, something he later said was purely accidental.
Pochettino, who looked equally emotional, embraced Neymar multiple times as the players walked off the pitch. Pictures and videos on social media then showed the team celebrating back in the home dressing room.
Bayern, meanwhile, will feel hard done by after two good performances in the high-quality contest but it sorely missed star striker Robert Lewandowski.
The Poland international has been in rampant form in front of goal this season, scoring 35 goals in the Bundesliga, but missed both legs through injury.
It meant Bayern’s attack was led by Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting who, despite scoring the only goal of the second leg, cannot be classed in the same category as a superstar like Lewandowski. The absence of other senior players, such as Serge Gnabry, also meant manager Hansi Flick was short of options from the bench, which was largely full of inexperienced youngsters.
Even without its main goalscorer and despite the defeat, Flick suggested his team deserved more.
“Over both games, I think we were the better team,” Flick said. “We’ve had some back luck, we were missing some players but we have to accept it.”
In truth, Pochettino’s plan worked perfectly. He seemed more than happy for Bayern to dominate possession for much of the tie and backed his defensive players to do the leg work — a task made more difficult by the injury to captain Marquinhos.
Sucking Bayern in made space for PSG to spring counter-attacks which created an exciting spectacle for the neutrals to watch.
Now, with Bayern eliminated, the tournament looks wide open and PSG will be confident having knocked out the champions. It joins Chelsea in the last four where it will face either Manchester City or Borussia Dortmund.
By adding grit to the glitz, this could be the year PSG finally clinch the coveted Champions League — a trophy its owners are so desperate to have.
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