Barcelona’s European Dream Crushed as PSG Stage Champions League Comeback

Flynn Rey | Last Updated : April 17, 2024

Barcelona’s wait for a first Champions League semifinal appearance since 2019 will continue after a dramatic collapse against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday. Leading 4-2 on aggregate after last week’s first-leg victory in Paris, Barça were on course to reach the last four until a red card for Ronald Araújo just before the half-hour mark turned the tie on its head.

Trailing 1-0 on the night, Barça were cruising when 16-year-old Lamine Yamal set up Raphinha to give the visitors the lead. But Araújo’s dismissal for a foul on Bradley Barcola proved to be the turning point. “The red card has marked the tie,” lamented Barça manager Xavi Hernández. “We were well-organized 11 v 11. The referee was really bad. I told him, he was a disaster. He killed the tie.”

With Barça down to 10 men, Paris Saint-Germain seized the initiative. Former Barça winger Ousmane Dembélé, who left the club last summer, equalized just before the break to make it 1-1 on the night. And the French champions completed their comeback in the second half, with Vitinha and a Kylian Mbappé penalty turning the tie in their favor.

Mbappé, who has been persistently linked with a move away from PSG, was the hero for the visitors, scoring twice to secure a 6-4 aggregate victory. The French superstar, who is tipped to join Real Madrid in the summer, said helping PSG win their first Champions League title is a matter of pride for him.

“I have the dream of winning the Champions League for Paris,” Mbappé told reporters. “I’m proud to be at PSG since the first day. It’s not because there are good times and bad times that my pride takes a hit. The pride of playing for this club, of representing the club of the capital of my country, it’s something special for me who grew up there.”

Barça’s collapse was hard to take, especially given their recent resurgence under Xavi. They were unbeaten in 13 games coming into this match, having kept six clean sheets in a row in LaLiga. But the sending-off of Araújo proved to be the catalyst for their downfall.

Xavi was furious with the referee’s decision, believing it was a harsh call. “We are annoyed. The red card has marked the tie. We were well-organized 11 v 11. The referee was really bad. I told him, he was a disaster. He killed the tie. I don’t like speaking about refs but it has to be said. I don’t understand it.”

With Barça down to 10 men, PSG took control. Dembélé’s equalizer just before the break gave the visitors a foothold in the tie, and they came out strongly in the second half. Vitinha’s strike from the edge of the box made it 2-1 on the night, and Mbappé’s penalty soon after put PSG in the driving seat.

Barça did have chances to level the scores, with Robert Lewandowski going close and Ferran Torres being denied on the rebound. But they were unable to find the crucial goal, and Mbappé sealed the victory for PSG in the closing minutes, firing home on the counter-attack.

The result ends Barça’s hopes of a first Champions League semifinal appearance since 2019. It was a bitter pill to swallow, especially given their impressive form heading into the tie. “We beat a great team this evening,” Mbappé said. “Now it’s certain that during evenings like this, the pride is even greater.”

For PSG, the victory represents a significant step towards their elusive first Champions League title. They will face Borussia Dortmund in the semifinals, as they continue their quest to win Europe’s top club competition for the first time.

The rivalry between Barça and PSG has intensified in recent years, with the French club signing a number of the Catalan giants’ star players, including Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Dembélé. Tuesday’s match was another chapter in the developing saga, with the extra police presence and vociferous chanting from the supporters highlighting the animosity between the two clubs.

Barça’s collapse will be a bitter pill to swallow, especially with their LaLiga title hopes also hanging by a thread. They now face a daunting trip to Real Madrid in El Clásico on Sunday, where anything less than a win would effectively end their hopes of silverware this season.

As for PSG, the victory will be celebrated in the French capital, with Mbappé’s heroics ensuring that the dream of a maiden Champions League triumph remains alive. The young striker’s future may be uncertain, but on a night like this, his focus is solely on bringing glory to his hometown club.

“To experience an evening like this one as a Parisian, it’s great,” Mbappé said. “We have one more step to go before we reach the final in Wembley, so we need to stay calm.” With their talismanic striker leading the way, PSG will be confident of securing that elusive first Champions League title. For Barça, the wait for a return to the European summit goes on.

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