Europe’s premier competition, the UEFA Champions League never fails to amaze us. Back in the 2016-17 campaign when Barcelona were up against France’s topmost team, Paris Saint Germain, things escalated quickly for the Catalan giants as they carved their names in Champions League history.
After a thrashing in the first leg of the Round of 16 at Le Parc des Princes, Barcelona stitched the mother of all comebacks in the return leg at home, becoming the first team in the history of the competition to overturn a 4-0 deficit in the knockout phase.
It was the belief of Blaugrana’s then-manager Luis Enrique who stood tall in the post-match conference after the first leg defeat and declared that if PSG can score four, then his team can score six. It was almost as he was prophesying the events that will unfold at the Camp Nou.
This was a time when the attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar Jr, the famous ‘MSN’ trio were at their zenith. A place in the quarter-final was at stake and so was the reputation of the club they so fondly adored and cared for.
The second leg started brightly for Barcelona as they slowly but surely chipped away at PSG’s lead, building a 2-0 lead with goals from Luis Suarez and an own goal from Layvin Kurzawa in the first 45 minutes.
The first goal in the third minute of the game by Suarez rattled the visitors as they failed to clear the ball in time. Barcelona knew that they might be on to something special here. A dream start was only accompanied by few consistent shots at the goal from outside the box by Neymar and the midfield maestro Andres Iniesta.
The Catalans knew that they can’t afford to sit back which was evident in their strategy as defenders Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano and Samuel Umtiti looked a part of the attacking sprint throughout the match.
Barcelona went into halftime with two goals in the bag. In the second half, the Blaugrana started strongly keeping possession and forcing PSG’s defence to be more cautious. The Catalans quickly pinned the hosts back and after a dangerous pass into the penalty area, Thomas Meunier stumbled forward into the path of Neymar who went down. Lionel Messi stepped up to take the penalty. It was 3-0 now.
It was wave-after-wave of Catalan attack, who were caught off guard when Kurzawa passed the ball to Edinson Cavani to blast the back of the net past Marc-Andre Ter Stegen. Barcelona fans sulked and the echoes of the defeat were getting louder. Cavani’s goal now meant that in order to proceed to the next stage, Barcelona needed three more goals.
But it was probably a parting gift by Neymar to Barcelona, who knew little that he won’t be at the club next season. A majestic free kick in the 88th minute and a clinical penalty which was earned through a foul on Suarez were converted into goals with only a couple of minutes left in the game.
The scores were now tied on aggregate (5-5) but PSG would have gone through given their sole away goal. The entire stadium was simmering in anticipation and Barcelona’s goalkeeper Ter Stegen was way down the pitch in PSG’s half with Suarez howling at the German to retake his position.
What followed was a Neymar’s cross into the PSG box which was somehow picked up by substitute Sergi Roberto who lunged his foot forward to put the ball at the back of the net. Barcelona had pulled off the unimaginable. Luis Enrique ran on the pitch with no holds barred and the players were unstoppable.
It was one of the most memorable nights at the Camp Nou that clearly defined Barcelona’s resolve to overcome the mightiest of obstacles. The resilience paid off and the eternal glory once again returned to Catalan.
Feature image courtesy: AFP/Lluis Gene