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Friday , October 30 2020

‘Barca comeback will never be forgotten’

Barcelona’s Gerard Pique heads the ball fl anked by PSG’s Marquinhos during the Champions League round of 16, second leg soccer match between FC Barcelona and Paris Saint Germain at the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona, Spain on March 8. (AP)

BARCELONA, March 9, (RTRS): Barcelona’s amazing 6-1 victory over Paris St Germain on Wednesday that sent them through to the Champions League quarter-finals will forever stay in the memories of supporters, coach Luis Enrique said.

The Spanish champions, who lost the first leg 4-0 and were facing their earliest exit from the competition since 2007, struck three late goals in six minutes to complete an extraordinary comeback. “Any child in the Nou Camp tonight will never forget this and neither will the adults. This is a unique sport for crazy people,” Luis Enrique told reporters. “This is a night which is difficult to explain in words, it had the script of a horror film with a spectacular start with an atmosphere which I have never seen in the Nou Camp, with tension I have never seen before.” No side in 61 years of the European Cup had ever gone through after losing the first leg of a knockout tie by four goals and Luis Enrique paid tribute to the fans who stood by the team after their harrowing defeat at the Parc des Princes. “I would like to thank everyone who kept their faith after we lost 4-0. This is dedicated to them because this isn’t the Harlem Globetrotters, this is football,” he said, referring to the famous American exhibition basketball team. “I don’t think anyone stopped believing. We risked everything and it paid off. You get finales like this very occasionally in football and this time it was our turn,”

Luis Enrique said. “It was an explosion of sentiment, I’m not an emotional person but I enjoyed this just as much as those that were moved to tears.” Barca forward Neymar, who scored twice in the space of three minutes before Sergi Roberto’s 95th-minute clincher, said it was the best performance of his career, in which he has won the Champions League and an Olympic gold medal with Brazil. “It’s the best game I’ve played in my life, because of the whole story, the goals and for what it means to the team,” Neymar told BeIN SPORTS. “It looked like the tie was over after losing in Paris and now we’re playing without responsibility, with happiness. The first week after Paris was tough but we rediscovered our football and since the second week we couldn’t wait for this game to come around.” Barca defender Gerard Pique, meanwhile, predicted a surge in the birth rate in Catalonia, as occurred in 2009 following Andres Iniesta’s stoppage-time leveller against Chelsea which took Barca into the Champions League final. Barcelona’s decision to keep faith with late bloomer Roberto paid off on Wednesday when he slid in to score in the 95th minute and complete a barely believable comeback against Paris St Germain to reach the Champions League quarter-finals. Before his crucial strike in the epic second leg at the Nou Camp, Roberto had only scored five goals in all competitions since Pep Guardiola gave him his Barca debut in 2010 and had not netted this season.

Coach Luis Enrique, who has known Roberto since he brought him into the club’s reserve team, admitted he was an unlikely figure to grab the final goal in the 6-1 drubbing and complete Barca’s historic comeback from a 4-0 defeat in the first leg. “Sergi Roberto is a great player but he stopped scoring goals when he was a teenager.

I always tell him he wouldn’t be able to score in a rainbow,” Luis Enrique said. “I value and appreciate him a lot and that’s why I gave him his debut in the reserve team but this victory was down to the faith of every player, those who participated and those who stayed in the stands.” Originally a defensive midfielder, Roberto struggled to find a place in Barca’s first team for years. Always behind Sergio Busquets in the pecking order, he made only one league start in the 2013/14 campaign and four the following season. Luis Enrique began experimenting with him as a right back in the summer of 2015 due to an injury to Dani Alves and the departure of Martin Montoya, who could not be replaced due to the club’s transfer ban for signing underage players.

Roberto excelled in his new-found role last season, leading Barca to decide against buying a replacement right back in the summer after the departure of mainstay Alves to Juventus.

The merits of that decision were questioned when Roberto’s limitations in his new position were exposed by top opponents such as Manchester City, who beat Barca 3-1 and especially in the 4-0 drubbing by PSG at the Parc des Princes. Luis Enrique stuck by him, however, deploying Roberto as a floating full back in a 3-4-3 formation he began using after the defeat to PSG. The defender was left out of Wednesday’s starting line-up but called on with 14 minutes left. “I hit the ball with everything I had and I’m very happy,” Roberto said. “It was very difficult after Cavani’s goal as we needed three but everyone worked so hard. “If Barcelona have demonstrated anything tonight, it’s that we are made for nights like this.” This was supposed to be the year Paris St Germain joined the European elite with a statement victory in the Champions League, yet the French champions fluffed their lines in spectacular fashion and were trampled in the dust by a Catalan juggernaut. After swatting aside Barcelona 4-0 in an exhilarating first leg display, an incredible meltdown in the latter stages of Wednesday’s return leg ended with the home side marching triumphantly into the quarter-finals with a 6-5 aggregate win. Qatar-backed PSG have invested heavily in a squad designed to compete at the highest level, yet once again they were found wanting against the very best and were eliminated by Barcelona in the knockout stages for the third time in five years.

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