It was an earthquake event in an empty stadium as Paris Saint-Germain’s biggest victory of the season to date was celebrated in almost complete silence. However, some of the players swear that, when Anthony Taylor whistled full time, confirming PSG’s place in the Champions League quarter-finals and eliminating Borussia Dortmund, they could hear the thousands of fans gathered in front of the Parc des Princes as they left the field inside.
Wednesday night’s 2-0 victory took place behind closed doors, but throughout the mild Parisian night, the doors had been opened a little. The ultras, gathered outside, have demonstrated what it means to love a football club. They were a constant presence before, during and after the match, singing, chanting and lighting red rockets to celebrate.
They also had good reason to celebrate. The victory was significant given that the pressure on PSG was high, the stakes huge and the full-time emotional release so huge. PSG, Thomas Tuchel, the royal family of Qatar owner of the club, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, you name it: they would not be eliminated again at this stage of the competition as they have been in the last three seasons . To repeat this sorrow would certainly have meant the end of Tuchel as a manager and probably the end of the “Neymappe” cycle too. Another early humiliation would most likely have meant their collective departure in the summer.
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Reputation for being the team that bottles up special occasions after two remontada at home and outside in the past three years began to follow them. The Champions League curse, with all of these dramatic premature exits, was starting to be too much to bear. On top of all that, they had to play in an empty stadium and with Mbappe on the bench, barely recovered from a nasty case of influenza and a precautionary test against coronaviruses which turned out negative the day before the match. .
With all the stories swirling around the match, they have always come out with a performance that none of their fans (or critics) have seen this season. They played as a team, something nobody really thought they could do. They defended together, pressing and counterpressing together. It was a demonstration full of heart, courage and talent. They were disciplined, well organized, aggressive. It was a controlled win, not something you would normally say on PSG, especially not this season.
One player embodied their efforts. Neymar is, without a doubt, a division player. He is loved and hated worldwide on an equal basis. He trolled Erling Haaland with his goal celebration after the Norwegian international launched the banter on social media earlier today. Dortmund as a club had actually been pretty vocal on social media after their 2-1 first leg win, with players like Axel Witsel, Emre Can, Haaland, the club’s official Twitter account and even the former player ( and Champions League winner) Lars Ricken all trying at PSG.
“We felt that [Dortmund] lost their humility after the first leg. After their victory, they published a lot of tweets, Instagram posts – a lot of words. We all saw it and kept it behind our heads and I think it boosted us. We had a little bit of anger in our minds, “said Presnel Kimpembe after Wednesday’s game.
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The roles have been reversed from last season’s elimination, in which PSG was not humble enough before their unfortunate match against Manchester United at home. But the players learned their lesson this time, with Neymar setting the tone and playing like a leader. He scored the first goal and started the movement for the second. For the Brazilian international, who missed the decisive two games in the knockout stages of the Champions League due to an injury and failed to return to Barcelona this summer, the qualification looked like a release.
Before communion with the fans of one of the elevated passages in the Parc des Princes, Neymar had a moment for him and was crying. Like his teammates, he knows that there is still a long way to go in this competition and that PSG has not won anything yet, but it was a crucial victory and he knew it.
Said Tuchel of his star, “He is so reliable in this kind of games. We can count on him, he will not disappoint and he will meet for rations. He can cope with the pressure. He has personality and confidence to exploit his genius potential. He still needs a little rhythm but he has a sense of sacrifice. “
In fact, the champions of France had been confident all week. All the vibrations from the PSG camp were positive – a real change from the fate and gloom they sometimes felt in 2020. It had been a turbulent few weeks since the first leg in Dortmund and the 2-1 defeat after poor display both individually and collectively. Tuchel’s position was fragile; he was publicly criticized by Thomas Meunier, Neymar and Marquinhos while Kimpembe’s brother insulted him on social networks. There were injuries to Neymar and Mbappé’s illness, but after the first leg, the players regrouped. They responded together to criticism from sporting directors Leonardo and Tuchel that they shouldn’t have celebrated the way they celebrated the birthdays of Mauro Icardi, Angel Di Maria and Edinson Cavani two days after the loss in Germany.
Tuchel’s post-match remarks revealed his relief. “I got stuck in my throat when I saw how PSG is treated, how you talk to me,” he told Sky Germany after the match, given how critical it had been. after Dortmund’s first victory. “I accidentally watched your show on my iPad and saw the headlines:” Tuchel doesn’t control his locker room, his players do what they want, he’s just a circus manager. “You can say hello to your channel. You will have to explain to me how you can deal [me and PSG] so negatively when we won 28 games in a row. “
Goalkeeper Keylor Navas also showed his leadership by standing up to Leonardo. The team showed more unity than ever, and we saw it after Wednesday’s victory. The celebrations with the ultras and in the locker room were crazy and lasting. However, it could not be a PSG Champions League season without drama, and obviously the uncertainty over the rest of the competition cast a big shadow over qualification. It would be so for PSG if the Champions League were to be canceled the year they finally defeated the hoodoo around them and showed a real ability to continue and win.
Nevertheless, the club’s attention has shifted to the ongoing coronavirus epidemic around the world, and they are taking it seriously. When Mbappé was diagnosed with influenza on Monday, he was immediately tested for COVID-19. They take reasonable precautions, such as completely disinfecting the stadium and training ground, with access to hand gel all around the club properties.
As the football world holds its breath for the rest of its season, PSG is feeling stronger and stronger. With as much hope as possible that the action will continue, the full story of their season, as well as that of all the other players in the Champions League, remains to be written.