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Barcelona sees red as PSG pounces

Mbappe brace downs 10-man Catalan club to send Paris into UCL semifinals

Updated: 2024-04-18 09:04
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Barcelona's Ronald Araujo argues with referee Istvan Kovacs after being shown a red card for pulling down Bradley Barcola. [Photo/AP]

PARIS — Paris Saint-Germain's emphatic victory over Barcelona keeps alive the French club's dream of ending the Kylian Mbappe era by lifting the Champions League trophy at Wembley in June.

Its hopes of going all the way in Europe's elite club competition for the first time hung in the balance after it lost 3-2 at home to Barca in the first leg of its quarterfinal last week.

It had never previously won a Champions League knockout tie after losing the first leg at home, and its prospects of doing so this time appeared slim after it conceded the opening goal on the night.

Another disappointing exit threatened for the Qatar-owned club, which has been knocked out in the last 16 in five of the previous seven seasons.

But, it seized the opportunity given to it in Catalonia after Ronald Araujo's red card reduced Barcelona to 10 men with over an hour to play. It allowed Luis Enrique's team to go on and win 4-1 on the night and 6-4 on aggregate.

With the extra player, PSG was rampant, as Ousmane Dembele again stood out against his old team by scoring the equalizer and winning a penalty, which Mbappe converted, to put PSG ahead in the tie.

The outstanding Vitinha — who had already scored in the first leg — netted with a brilliant strike from outside the box.

Ilkay Gundogan then hit the post at the other end for Barca, before his coach Xavi Hernandez was also shown a red card for dissent, and was sent to the stands.

Mbappe made sure of the win late on, sparking wild celebrations in the away end at Montjuic.

"It is a magnificent, historic moment for the club. It is not easy to win here, but I was confident.

"I told the coach we were going to win and qualify," PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi proudly told broadcaster Canal Plus.

The final scoreline was identical to that of its last visit to Barcelona in February 2021, when Mbappe hit a hat-trick in the first leg of a last-16 tie it eventually won 5-2 on aggregate.

But, the manner of this victory surely finally exorcises the ghost of its humiliating collapse in Barcelona in 2017, when it won 4-0 at home in the first leg, only to lose 6-1 in the return in a stunning implosion.

Final destination?

Seven years ago, Barcelona went into the 88th minute of the second leg needing to score three times and duly did so.

This time it was PSG who produced the turnaround, and it now has a glorious opportunity to reach a second Champions League final in five seasons.

"This means a lot," Dembele told Canal Plus. "We are crossing our fingers that we can get to Wembley."

PSG responded to the 2017 defeat by later signing Neymar and Mbappe for the two biggest transfer fees in soccer history.

Neymar departed last year for Saudi Arabia, and Mbappe recently informed the French champion that he intends to leave when his contract expires at the end of this campaign, with Real Madrid almost certain to be his next destination.

The closest PSG has come to winning the Champions League trophy with Mbappe came in 2020, where it lost the final to Bayern Munich in Lisbon, behind closed doors during the pandemic.

It really would feel like a waste if PSG does not manage to win it with such a generational talent in its ranks.

Questions have been asked about Mbappe's recent performances, but his goals on Tuesday took him to 41 for the season in all competitions.

He is now just two goals away from a half-century in the Champions League, and is the competition's leading marksman this season with eight.

Four of them have come in two away games in the knockout phase, and anything is possible for PSG when Mbappe is on form.

He also scored in the group stage against Borussia Dortmund, which will be PSG's semifinal opponent.

Luis Enrique's side — which could wrap up the Ligue 1 title before then — must be considered huge favorite to overcome the team that is currently fifth in the Bundesliga.

If his team does so, then it would just be one game at Wembley away from the glory it has chased for so long.


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