FC Barcelona is the first team in UEFA Champions League history to overturn a four-goal first-leg deficit, beating Paris St Germain 6-1 at the Nou Camp last night, March 9.
The Spanish side began the night 4-0 down after the first leg. With 28 minutes remaining, FC Barcelona still required three more goals to progress. But two late goals from Brazilian striker Neymar, and the decisive final strike from substitute Sergio Roberto, saw FC Barcelona victorious and able to celebrate a tenth successive quarter-final berth.
FC Barcelona’s “miracle makers,” as the club’s match report called them, pulled off “one of the most epic comebacks in the history of the Champions League.” But this competition is no stranger to late drama and extraordinary turnarounds.
The 1999 final lives long in the memory of Manchester United FC’s fans, as their team scored two stoppage-time goals to beat Bayern Munich FC. Liverpool FC’s recovery from 3-0 down at half-time of the 2005 final was equally dramatic, eventually beating AC Milan on penalties in Istanbul.
On the night, two first-half goals, and another just after the break, gave FC Barcelona improbable hope. But a 62nd-minute strike from Paris St Germain’s Uruguayan striker, Edison Cavani, appeared to put the tie beyond them.
But the finale to “one of the greatest European ties of all time,” according to BBC Sports’ Louise Gwilliam, was sparked by Brazilian Neymar in the 88th minute. If his free kick reignited Barça’s hope, his penalty three minutes later, and assist for Roberto’s goal in the 95th-minute, unleashed what BBC Sports’ Andy West called “mayhem, utter mayhem” among FC Barcelona’s fans inside the Nou Camp.
Paris St Germain FC had begun the match with one foot in their fifth Uefa Champions League quarter-final in-a-row. Out of these two giants of European football, it looked highly unlikely that the French club’s fans would be the ones walking away from the stadium disappointed into the Spanish night.
Yet by the final whistle, the French champions were left only to reflect on what had gone wrong, as a 6-1 defeat on the night ended their hopes for this year’s Champions League title.
If they were left in shock, it is understandable. Three weeks previously, FC Barcelona’s match report of the first leg admitted their team had “a mountain left to climb” to reach the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, after a “miserable night at the Parc des Princes.”
But climb it they were also expected to. The last time FC Barcelona failed to reach the quarter-final round was in 2006/07. Since then they have been a regular fixture in the latter stages of Europe’s premier club competition, winning it in 2011 and 2015.
It is a club with a proud history, but with that comes both a belief in the improbable and a pressure to maintain their success. As the club’s match report from the first leg suggested, “if anyone can do this [win the tie], Barça can”.
FC Barcelona’s victory over Paris St Germain FC bettered any other second-leg comeback in European tournament history. In the UEFA Champions League, the previous record was held by another Spanish side, Deportivo La Coruña, set in the quarter-finals of the 2003/04 tournament.
Their opponents were the previous year’s champions, AC Milan. Trailing 4-1 from the first leg, Deportivo La Coruña won the tie 5-4 on aggregate, the decisive fourth goal also coming late in the tie, scored by Fran in the 76th minute.
Last night, FC Barcelona’s players did climb their mountain. Their reward is a place in the 2016/2017 quarter-finals and in the UEFA Champions League all-time record books.
Whatever else manager Luis Enrique achieves in his final season at the FC Barcelona, he and his players have already ensured their place in the illustrious history of this famous club.
[Featured Image by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images]