Messi and Neymar lead Barcelona to a 6-5 comeback against Paris Saint-Germain
Going into Thursday’s Round of 16 game against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, Barcelona was down 0-4 on aggregate. For those unfamiliar with Champions League play, every round is played twice up until the Final. Each team gets a home game, and the winner is decided by aggregate score after the two games. Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) posted four goals in their game in Paris, all but booking their ticket to the quarterfinals. They merely had to survive a game at Barcelona’s stadium, Camp Nou, and they were through. People across the world, including myself, had written off the Catalan club, believing there was no possible way Barcelona could ever hope to tie the aggregate score. But boy were we wrong.
Barcelona came out with a vengeance. Not even five minutes into the match, and Luis Suarez was doing Luis Suarez things, dinking a cheeky header over the PSG keeper for the first goal of the game, sending Camp Nou into an eruption of cheers. It was now 1-4, and the fans were loving it, but everyone knew there was no possible chance a comeback could happen. And they seemed to be correct, as Barcelona failed to find the net for the next 37 minutes, with a few chances from Messi and Neymar missing the net. But then, in the 40th minute, Andres Iniesta made a run, somehow beating young defender Marquinhos to the ball, and back-heeled it desperately into the six-yard box, hoping to maybe find the foot of a Barcelona player. It instead finds the foot of Layvin Kurzawa, who knocks it into his own net and gives the Spanish club a second goal. Suddenly, the comeback seemed much more real than before. Could it really happen?
After the second half whistle, Barcelona struck again within five minutes. As Iniesta stood his man up and played a through ball to Neymar on the outside of the 18-yard box, Thomas Meunier turned to chase the ball down, seemingly guaranteed to beat Neymar to it. But, three steps into his chase, Meunier stumbled and fell, sliding in front of the ball and tripping the young Brazilian as Neymar seemed to be guaranteed a goal. It was a perplexing series of events, and the head referee wasn’t sure what call to make. After some deliberation with the assistant a penalty was awarded, and Lionel Messi stepped up to bang it home. The score was no 3-0, and the aggregate was 3-4. At this point, a comeback seemed almost guaranteed. But not if PSG, and more importantly Edinson Cavani, had anything to say about it.
In the 62nd minute, a long ball was played into the Barcelona 18-yard box, and Kurzawa beat Ivan Rakitic to the header, knocking it back into the middle of the box for star striker Edinson Cavani to volley a screamer into the top corner, making the score 3-1 and the aggregate 3-5, almost effectively sealing it for PSG. The world once again wrote Barcelona off, and the world was once again wrong. In the 88th minute, Barcelona was awarded a free kick, and Neymar was given the call, and boy did he answer. In what might be the goal of the year, Neymar somehow curled the ball around the short side of the wall, and into the top corner, without giving Kevin Trapp any possible chance of making a save. And Just like that, it was 4-1, with the aggregate 4-5. However, in the Champions League (and all other professional tournaments) away goals are valued higher than home goals, so if a tie were to happen, PSG would have won because of their away goal, meaning Barcelona still needed two goals to complete their comeback in regulation time. The 90th minute came, and five minutes were granted by the time official. In the 91st minute, a long ball was played over the top, looking for Suarez in the box. Defended by Marquinhos, Suarez attempted to make a play on the ball and fell to the ground with Marquinhos on his back. A penalty was immediately awarded, and Neymar knocked it home, but suddenly the comeback took a backseat, at least for a moment. While a replay was shown on television, and radio commentators around the world debated, it seemed that Suarez had taken a dive to win that penalty, and, upon further review, it became very obvious he had. There was no time for debate, as Barcelona had already grabbed the ball from the back of the net and put it back at the half line, desperately looking to score one more before stoppage time was up. Four minutes later, and Barcelona are granted a free kick on the PSG half. With every player at the top of the box, even goalkeeper Ter Stegen, Neymar kicked the ball into play, only to have it bounce back out to him, 10 yards closer than the free kick spot. With time winding down, and the PSG back line advancing, hoping to create an offsides trap, Neymar aired the ball in, over seemingly everyone, except substitute Sergio Roberto, who threw his right leg out and knocked the ball just past Trapp and into the net, giving Barcelona the 6-1 lead, the 6-5 aggregate, and sealing PSG’s fate. Camp Nou erupted, the final whistle was blown, and PSG went home the unexpected and almost seemingly unfair loser.
It was deemed the greatest comeback in Champions League knockout round history, and rightly so, as the next closest comeback was a 5-4 victory by Spanish side Deportivo over AC Milan back in 2004. But it is questionable as to whether Barcelona deserved the win at all. While the Catalan club did certainly earn goals one, two, three, four, and six, commentators, experts, and fans alike all agree, goal number five should have never happened. Suarez was given a yellow card earlier in the second half for faking a dive and probably should have been granted a second card for the penalty at the end of the half, because really, that’s what it was. It is clear head referee Deniz Aytenkin made a mistake that game, and cost PSG yet another chance at winning the Champions League. But, unfortunately, the game is over, and while conversation will continue on the validity of Barcelona’s comeback for months to come, Barcelona is the team to move on, and nothing will change that. But in the end, that’s sports.