The European champion is out, and just as significantly perhaps, Paris Saint-Germain stared into the abyss, faced its fears and, finally, prevailed.
It was tense, it was tight, it was nervy, but a 1-0 defeat for PSG was enough to secure an away-goals victory and eliminate Bayern Munich from the Champions League in the quarterfinals. The consequences for Bayern coach Hansi Flick, as successful as he's been since taking charge, could be profound–as they could be for PSG. Since Qatar Sports Investments took over the club 10 years ago, the Champions League has always been the target. At last, perhaps, this could be its year.
But it was a desperately close-run thing. Eight minutes into the second half, Kylian Mbappé found Angel Di Maria with an angled pass. He took it down on his chest, jinked by Alphonso Davies and, as Manuel Neuer advanced, squared the ball. It rolled parallel to the goal line across the six-yard box, no more than three yards out, but a stretching Neymar couldn’t get the decisive touch. The look of combined disbelief and horror on his face as he picked himself up and acknowledged Di Maria’s brilliance spoke volumes: the sense had begun to settle that somehow, once again, mysterious forces were conspiring against the club in a major European tie.
Given its wealth and the nature of its ownership, PSG will attract little sympathy, but it has suffered more than its share of heartache, even despite reaching last season's final following a series of atypical, one-off elimination bouts from the final eight on. Sometimes it has been bad luck, sometimes its nerve has gone and those two factors have conspired to raise demons that it feels the club must constantly battle.
Slowly, the clock ticked down. Slowly, PSG edged nearer to a semifinal against either Manchester City or Borussia Dortmund. It perhaps wasn’t how anybody had envisioned the tie going, but an away-goals victory counts as well as any other. And perhaps, in a strange way, the fact that so much went against PSG and it still prevailed despite failing to score, will be a source of comfort. If it could survive this, what does it have to fear in the future?
At the same time, Bayern began to seem increasingly weary, increasingly short of ideas. But injuries combined with the wrangling over recruitment, the source of major conflict between Flick and the sporting director Hasan Salihamidžić, have left Bayern with a short bench. Once Jamal Musiala–18 years old, making just his sixth Champions League appearance–had been brought on, all that remained on the bench was Javi Martinez and a bunch of unproven youngsters. The knee injury suffered by Robert Lewandowski on international duty took a heavy toll. By the end, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting had been withdrawn and Martinez was thrust into emergency service at center forward.
There had not been the same explosive start as last week, but once the game had settled it touched just the same heights of attacking football. The opening 20 minutes had largely been a non-event, characterized not by the end-to-end thrills of the first leg but by PSG players rolling on the ground. Some of it, perhaps, was justified as Bayern pressed with some intensity, but much of it appeared a calculated attempt to break up the play and prevent the away side developing any kind of rhythm.
But as the game opened up, the pattern was very similar to the first leg. Bayern had most of the ball and created repeated opportunities, while PSG posed a major threat on the break. The biggest difference, perhaps, was the form of Neuer: uncertain early on last week, he was commanding here, making a number of fine blocks and sweeping authoritatively behind the high defensive line. The expected goals total had Bayern comfortably winning the first leg–evidence both of Bayern’s wastefulness and the lethality of PSG’s counters. Here, fortune perhaps redressed any favors it had offered in the first leg.
Twice in the space of three minutes, Neymar struck the woodwork, first with a clever curling effort and then as he ran to apply the finish to a glorious sweeping break. A minute later, just as the momentum seemed to have shifted the way of the home side, Bayern took the lead, with Choupo-Moting bundling the ball in from close range after Keylor Navas had saved from David Alaba.
That made it 3-3 on aggregate and essentially gave Bayern the second half to find a winner. Both sides had chances. Both goalkeepers made saves. Opportunities were wasted, passes misplaced. But Mauricio Pochettino, whatever unexpected struggles PSG may be facing in its domestic league, has imbued this squad with the same sort of fighting spirit that–thanks to two notable away goals victories–carried Tottenham to the final two years ago.
It might not have made much sense. It may all have been too frenetic for comfort, but PSG, which claims to be on the verge of tying down Neymar and Mbappé for the long term, will not care. Bayern is out, PSG is through and QSI’s quest may, after a decade, be coming to an end.
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