Star-studded PSG capitulate and must wait another season for a shot at Champions League

Star-studded PSG capitulate and must wait another season for a shot at Champions League
Kylian Mbappé (centre) scores the 1-0 goal past Real Madrid's goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, during the Uefa Champions League round of 16, first-leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid in Paris, France, on 15 February 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Ian Langsdon)

With the first half of the round-of-16 fixtures in the Uefa Champions League concluded, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Liverpool and Bayern Munich are through to the quarterfinals.

Despite boasting some of the best players in world football – including Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar – Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) will have to wait another season for a shot at the Uefa Champions League title that the Qatari-owned club desperately yearns for.

The French outfit were knocked out after falling to a 3-2 aggregate defeat at the hands of record Champions League winners Real Madrid. But, approaching the hour mark of the return leg of their last-16 tie in midweek, PSG looked headed for the quarterfinals. They were leading 1-0 on the night and 2-0 on aggregate after Real Madrid transfer target Mbappe found the back of the net, just as he had done in the first leg.

Then the Parisian capitulation came. There had been warning shots in the first half, with Madrid’s French striker Karim Benzema leading Los Blancos’ bid for a comeback in front of their home crowd. The French side failed to heed those warnings. Benzema duly punished them with an 18-minute hat-trick, which included two strikes in two minutes.

“Across the two matches there were times when Paris were very comfortable in possession, but 90 minutes is a long time at [our home stadium] the Bernabéu. Tonight, Benzema showed again why he’s the number-one striker in the world. It’s time he was at the top of the Ballon D’Or rankings,” said Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

PSG captain Marquinhos had this to say about the disappointing outcome for his team: “The first goal was an important moment for them, to equalise and with the fans giving them extra energy. We should have handled the situation better. We made small mistakes after that. Over the two games, we deserved better – but we paid dearly for our mistakes at the end.”

Kylian Mbappe of Paris Saint-Germain (left) interacts with teammate Marco Verratti as Nacho Fernandez of Real Madrid (right) celebrates following the Uefa Champions League Round Of Sixteen Leg Two match between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on 9 March 2022 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo: David Ramos / Getty Images)

Best of the rest

There were no such issues for Manchester City, another European club with owners from the Middle East who are in desperate pursuit of European glory. The Citizens played out to a 0-0 draw against Portuguese club Sporting. They had been triumphant with an emphatic 5-0 in the first leg and the second stanza saw City manager Pep Guardiola rest some of his stars, such as Kevin de Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez.

Despite their failure to score more goals in the contest, City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola said he was ecstatic to see his team, which lost to Chelsea in the final of the 2021 edition, qualify for the last eight.

“It’s a good sign,” said Guardiola. “The last decade, step-by-step, the club grew up. Every season playing this competition, qualifying for the last 16 and now we are in the best eight teams in Europe.

“When we qualify for the last 16, I celebrate it. Now it’s time to congratulate everyone, focus on the Premier League and see who we get in the draw.”

Liverpool and Bayern Munich also secured places in the quarterfinals after wins over Inter Milan and RB Salzburg.

Liverpool lost 1-0 at Anfield to 10-man Inter, who had Chilean Alexis Sanchez sent off two minutes after taking a 1-0 lead through Lautaro Martinez. In the end, the Reds did enough to arrest Inter’s attempted comeback and ran out 2-1 winners on aggregate.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp lamented “slapstick” finishing from the team in front of their own fans, but was ultimately pleased with qualification to the next round.

Those sentiments were echoed by talisman player Mohamed Salah. “I hit the post twice. It’s okay — maybe next game I’ll score three. I don’t mind so much when the team qualifies,” Salah, who has scored 27 goals in all competitions so far this season, told BT Sport.

“This is a good game to learn from, it’s always important to win but sometimes, like tonight, you hit the post twice and you miss chances, it can happen. The good thing is that it’s not in the league.”

German giants Bayern were as ruthless as ever in a 7-1 demolition of Salzburg, securing an 8-1 aggregate win over the Austrian side. Polish goal machine Robert Lewandowski was at his sharpest as he scored the earliest hat-trick in Champions League history, with three goals by the 23rd minute.    

The remaining four quarterfinal ties will take place on 15 and 16 March. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


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