On March 8th, the world witnessed one of the greatest comebacks of all time in European football. FC Barcelona overturned a four-goal deficit to book a place in the last eight of the Champions League. The Catalan club won their pre-quarterfinal tie against Paris Saint-Germain 6-5 on aggregate. And everything was with the help of one Neymar Jr.
The Parisians were clear favorites to go through after they thrashed Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg of the tie three weeks ago at the Parc de Princes. A comeback like this is not improbable enough when you have a team filled with so many superstars. But out of all these superstars, one stood above the rest. Neymar Jr. with what was arguably his greatest performance ever, single-handedly dragged Barcelona to the next stage of the competition.
“As long as there’s a one percent chance, we’ll have 99 per cent faith,” wrote Neymar on his Instagram feed after the Blaugranas were soundly beaten by Les Parisiens in the first leg. Even in that 4-0 thumping in Paris, Neymar was the only player who came close to getting the better of PSG’s defence. The belief and the positive attitude he had after such a disappointing performance certainly shows his character as a player. Barcelona played four league games leading to the second leg of the tie. The game against Leganes was only won after a late penalty was won by Neymar and Messi converted it into a goal. But Neymar Jr.’s Man of the Match performance against Atletico Madrid and another stunning performance against Celta Vigo established him as Barcelona’s main man, alongside Leo Messi this season.
The 98,000 strong crowd turned at the Camp Nou with a glimmer of hope rather than expectancy. The Catalan side started the second leg very positively, pressing high up the pitch, with whole of the Camp Nou faithful behind the team as their 12th man. A cross swung from the right-side wasn’t dealt well by Kevin Trapp and his back four as Luis Suarez pounced onto the loose ball to get the slightest of touches and nod the ball home from close range. ONE-NIL. THREE MORE TO GO. An own-goal by Layvin Kurzawa in the 40th minute saw PSG’s formidable first-leg goal advantage reduce to half. TWO-NIL.
Just four minutes into the second-half, Neymar was brought down by Thomas Meunier after a slip in the box. Meunier overpowered the Brazilian in the first leg to provide for PSG’s fourth goal but this time Neymar won the one-v-one duel with the Belgian. The referee had to chat with his assistant behind the goal before finally giving the decision in the favour of home side, much to delight of Barcelona faithful. Leo Messi stepped up to take the spot-kick and slotted it neatly into the bottom-left corner. THREE-NIL. Barcelona was on the brink of Champions League history.
Twelve minutes later, Edinson Cavani scored the all-important away goal to the put the game to bed and send Paris safely through to the last eight. THREE-ONE. This was surely it. Camp Nou was silenced and Barcelona’s resistance was finally broken. Unai Emery went crazy on the sidelines celebrating Cavani’s wonderful volley. Even the most optimistic of Culés thought it was over. The home side needed three more in the next half-hour to stay alive in the competition.
The game went flat for a while until the 88th minute when Sergio Busquets won a free-kick close to the edge of the box in the dying moments of the game. Neymar stepped up when his team needed him the most. An exquisite curling free-kick from 20 yards out deceived Kevin Trapp as he was rooted to his spot and didn’t even made an effort. FOUR-ONE. Two more for a miracle!
Neymar’s free-kick boosted the team’s confidence as they went all in for the search of another goal. Just a minute later, Luis Suarez went down easily in the penalty box after minimal contact with Marquinhos. It was clear exaggeration from the Uruguayan but the referee pointed straight to the spot. A highly controversial decision but a lifeline for Barcelona. Up stepped Neymar, instead and ahead of Leo Messi, to calmly put the ball into the back of the net. FIVE-ONE.
— Subtle soccerist (@subtlesoccerist) March 8, 2017
Five minutes added at the end of the ninety, Barcelona still with a chance. Neymar was at the heart of it again with a sublime assist this time. A long ball was clipped into the penalty area invitingly and the substitute Sergi Roberto lifted a close-range finish over Kevin Trapp and sent the Camp Nou into ecstasy. SIX-ONE. Barcelona did the unthinkable, the impossible. All thanks to the Brazilian genius.
Barcelona comes back from down 0-4 on PSG in 1st leg to win it 6-1 in 2nd (6-5) after Sergi Roberto's 95th min goal! https://t.co/qgvBECFLwQ
— Tailgate Sports (@_TailgateSports) March 9, 2017
Neymar not only made Champions League history with his team last night but also broke some individual feats as well. The winning assist was his 15th in the Champions League since making his debut in September 2013. He’s now level with Cristiano Ronaldo for most assists during the time. It was also his eighth this season – a Champions League record since 2003-04 season.