Farewell then, Paris, a team that for all its vaulting ambition never does seem to get past the spring. On a gripping, relentlessly noisy night at the Parc des Princes second-half goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Casemiro were enough to extinguish once again Paris Saint Germain’s hopes of making it to the late stages of the Champions League.
A 5-2 aggregate victory hardly does justice to the French champions’ fine showing in the opening hour of the first leg of this tie. But the ease of Real Madrid’s ultimate victory speaks volumes not just for their own champion poise but for the difficulty of combining dreams of European dominance with the room-temperature French league.
PSG had won their last four games since that first leg in Madrid, with an aggregate score of 13-2. This, though, was something else as Madrid pranced about from the start with an alluring sure-footedness. As he often does away from home, Ronaldo led his team on from the front, unveiling a few extra tricks and flicks, puffing his chest out.
Unai Emery will fear for his future from here. By the end his team of plastic galácticos were down to 10 men and if not quite in disarray, then tamed far too easily.
As ever the Parc des Princes had been a booming, boisterous concrete cavern before kick-off, bouncing with that familiar Parisian surge of noise. It is a paradox of this cartoonishly inflated club that it has retained an authentically passionate core, both ends keeping up a relentless wall of noise throughout this game. Football is a resilient thing. You can’t kill the spirit. Not yet anyway.
“Fais nous rêver!” read the huge red plastic banner unfurled just before kick off, and even without Neymar, Unai Emery could field a team crammed with attacking talent. There is something hilariously unfortunate about spending £230m on one footballer basically just so he could play in this game, only to lose him to a broken foot a week beforehand. Worse, for Emery, was the ill-fated gamble on Giovani Lo Celso in central midfield for the first leg, which was not repeated here.
For Madrid there was a moment of vertigo before the start with the news that Toni Kroos and Luka Modric had failed to make the starting 11. Lucas Vázquez and Mateo Kovacic came in, tipping the scales towards the hosts in terms of paper-value galáctico power.
And so goliath met goliath, new money met old, a team supercharged around imported talent to glorify a self-regarding regime facing off one constructed to do exactly the same in the 21st century.
PSG began with some purpose . In the early exchanges the spidery Adrien Rabiot in particular was able to bounce his way through the clinches.
Ronaldo may move less these days, may be fast becoming a kind of CR7-tribute, his own gloriously toned and tanned waxwork, but he remains a mercilessly imposing figure, coming into this game with 14 goals in his past eight games.
He might have been sent off early on had he connected with a kick at Dani Alves, who did him a favour by forgetting to throw himself to the floor. Instead Ronaldo received just a ticking off. The privileges of extreme celebrity are numerous.
Otherwise Madrid did settle like champions. With 20 minutes gone a spell of insistent white-shirted pressure led to a corner, from which Sergio Ramos forced the first real save of the night from Alphonse Areola.
If PSG lacked a spark they also lacked precision in their set pieces, another key part of Neymar’s game that was missing here. They could still have taken the lead just before half-time, Kylian Mbappé finally working as overlap on Marcelo’s flank, but seeing his low shot blocked by Keylor Navas even as the Parc began to celebrate.
Benzema should have scored five minutes earlier, scampering through on goal after losing the right side of the PSG defence. His low shot was well saved by Areola. But he should have buried it.
With the game scoreless at half-time Madrid already had at least one foot in the last eight. Six minutes after the break Ronaldo was given space and time to kill the tie with a goal made by some wonderful work from Marco Asensio. His turn and reverse pass put Vázquez in space. The cross was perfect for Ronaldo to hang and nod past Areola for his 22nd goal in his past 13 games in this competition.
On 65 minutes the game receded decisively over the horizon as Marco Verratti received a second yellow card for dissent, charging at the referee after a heavy tackle and being left to repent, tearfully as he trudged off the pitch. Edinson Cavani equalised on the night, deflecting the ball home after a scramble and sparking another outbreak of red flares before the game faded to a close after Casemiro’s winner.
As Madrid march on to the last eight the fascination with PSG’s attempts to conquer European club football will remain. Perhaps in the months to come the temptation will be there to ask what is the point of this club in its current state, refashioned as the de facto Qatari embassy in Europe.
Deprived of a place among the European elite the entire project begins to look ludicrous, a club whose outstanding achievement to date is to make Real Madridlook like a paragon of egalitarian sporting virtue; not to mention a champion team that for all its gathering cobwebs will take some stopping from here.
Source: The Guardian