What just happened? Even days removed from the most epic comeback (or collapse) in UEFA Champions League history, football fans worldwide are still trying to answer that question as if they were still in the moment.
Barcelona’s comeback from a 4-0 first leg deficit to win 6-5 on aggregate against Paris Saint-Germain in their round of 16 tie on March 8 was a blend of unconfined joy and unspeakable agony that got the juices flowing and left you with mixed emotions. On one hand, you commend the greatness of Barcelona, who willed their way from a wretched first leg performance in Paris and suffering a sucker punch in the form of an Edinson Cavani away goal to land the telling knockout blow. But how they did it, scoring three goals from the 88th minute on to steal the win, speaks to a capitulation that has never been seen before in Europe, and puts PSG under the biggest microscope since being taken over by Qatar Sports Investments in 2011.
After two consecutive domestic trebles, the French capital club were hell bent on finally overcoming the Champions League road block that prevented them from attaining the European super club status they desperately craved. The last four seasons, they reached the quarterfinals, only to get bounced, most times in heartbreaking fashion. Pedro’s 71st minute goal at Camp Nou to help Barcelona escape on away goals, Demba Ba’s winner three minutes from time to help Chelsea go through on away goals, Kevin De Bruyne nabbing a curling winner with 13 minutes to go at the Etihad Stadium; PSG found every way to botch a golden opportunity to reach the last four of the competition for the first time ever. The struggle to take that next step in continental competition was more mental than anything as they possess the talent to take on any and all of Europe’s best.
Then this happened. Manager, Unai Emery, and others can blame questionable refereeing decisions all they want. Barcelona were buried. But a combination of defending too deep from the opening whistle, poor ball retention in midfield, two botched one-on-one counters and pathetic attempts at an offside trap offered the Catalans a proverbial shovel to dig themselves out from a deep hole. With the main aim of the season thwarted, the pressure on Emery just reached Eiffel Tower-esque levels as PSG face staunch opposition in their quest for a fifth straight Ligue 1 title, which may or may not be enough to keep him at the helm, depending on who you ask.