[OP-ED]: An epic comeback
The Champions League had never experienced a round of 16 week as the one we just witnessed. There were plenty of emotions started by the two goals headed by Sergio Ramos that qualified Real Madrid for the quarterfinals. Anyway, nothing can be compared with FC Barcelona’s amazing comeback against Paris Saint-Germain, the largest in European soccer history as no team had made it to the following round after losing 4-0 the first-leg game.
Up until last Wednesday, the top European comebacks belonged to Spanish teams, but without reaching the difficulty level overcame by Barça. FC Barcelona itself won a couple of duels in penalty kicks after 3-0 defeats in the respective first-leg contests against Belgian Anderlecht (1978) and Swedish Goteborg (1986). Facing AC Milan, Deportivo La Coruña overcame a 4-1 deficit in 2004, beating the Italian powerhouse, 4-0, in Galicia. Real Madrid came back from the same negative score to knock out England’s Derby County in 1975 with a 5-1 win in Spain’s capital city. The white squad also turned events 180 degrees in 1985 by defeating Borussia Mochengladbach 4-0 at home after losing 5-1 in Germany.
Despite the improbable of the feat and the horrible performance in Paris three weeks ago, Barça fans had faith in the heroic deed. A series of frenetic events that happened in 20 days got them believing. First, head coach Luis Enrique announced he was not coming back to manage the team next season, but promised to stay focus a hundred per cent in this one to turn things around. Then, in Madrid, showing great courage Barcelona defeated Atlético, 1-2, with a late goal by Messi. In the next two league home games, Barça won over Sporting and Celta with results that would have been enough to eliminate PSG: 6-1 and 5-0. Everybody knows the two squads from the North of Spain are not as strong as the French team, but the scores got Catalan fans saying: “we can do it”.
The most shocking part of last Wednesday’s battle is that it followed an unexpected script. Who would have said Barça would make it to the next round with Messi not having a stellar game? Who would have thought FC Barcelona would qualify with only seven shots on goal?
But it happened…
Things started perfectly for the Spaniards. A very defensive oriented system by PSG and two huge mistakes allowed Barça to take a 2-0 halftime lead. Five minutes after the intermission, the officiating crew called a controversial penalty kick that Messi converted, putting the score 3-0. But Uruguayan Cavani cut the lead to 3-1, silencing everybody at Nou Camp. Time moved inexorably. Many fans left the stadium. Neymar, the best player on the field, delivered a phenomenal free kick to account for Barça’s fourth goal with only two minutes remaining in regulation. Anyway, things really looked uphill. But in the 90th minute, the referee called another questionable penalty kick after a foul on Suárez, right when the fourth official showed five minutes of added time. Neymar transformed it. Four agonic minutes went by very quickly. Goalkeeper Ter Stegen moved to PSG’s zone. Neymar controlled a bouncing ball and kicked it into the opposing box, where Sergi Roberto, a young player developed in the club’s fan system, played hero and booted the sixth and definite Barça goal.
Very few believed Barcelona would overcome the round of 16 after the miserable 4-0 loss in Paris. But fewer would have thought that, to do it, Barça had to assume a working mode playing hard-nose soccer. Epic is this way. It is much more related to faith than to brilliance.