Marquinhos, in his crisp white hoodie, is there too. He was injured and missed Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to Bayern Munich – a result good enough to see Paris Saint-Germain advance to the next Champions League leg with away goals – but we could hear his voice in the stands, encourage his teammates.
Leandro Paredes, one of the leaders of this squad, keeps shouting: “Vamos! Vamos! Every time he kisses a teammate. Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the president of PSG, welcomed all the players in the locker room and then congratulated each of them a second time by going around the place, like Leonardo, the sporting director.
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Manager Mauricio Pochettino has to leave to do all his media duties after the game, but the huge smile on his face says it all. This is a happy locker room – a very happy dressing room. PSG are in the Champions League semi-finals for the second season in a row, and they are slowly but surely consolidating their place among the best European clubs and eternal Champions League contenders.
This time, they’ve come the right way – on two legs, beating Lionel Messi first and now Bayern, the world and European champions. Each time, it was a real battle, a biting scenario. But in both links, what prevails is the spirit and solidarity of Paris Saint-Germain.
Of course, Kylian Mbappe and Keylor Navas were the heroes of both games against Barcelona and that of Munich. Remarkably, the Costa Rican goalkeeper has yet to lose a two-way Champions League game he played in. And Neymar, voted man of the match on Tuesday, was the star of the show again, even though he should have taken at least one of the chances he created.
However, Paris came through because they played as a team, first and foremost. This is the message that Pochettino has been telling his players from day one: we can have great individuals like Neymar, Mbappe or Angel Di Maria, but we can only go far if all of this is done together, otherwise it won’t be possible.
At half-time in the first leg, with Bayern dominating the game, he told his men to keep calm and that they would score again and win. It happened. Pochettino told them on Tuesday they would be able to cope with the pressure in the second half after Bayern took the lead just before the break. And they did.
This PSG team won because it has become a definition of mental and collective forces, with particular talents within the group.
Of course, they took advantage of all the absent players from Bayern (Robert Lewandowski, Serge Gnabry, Leon Goretzka), but the Parisians also had problems. They had neither Marco Verratti nor Alessandro Florenzi for either game, while Marquinhos only lasted 30 minutes in the first leg and is now out until the semi-final first leg. Paredes, whom Pochettino has turned into a key part of the squad, was suspended for the game last week.
Paris had their issues, but they passed them to make sure their Champions League adventure continued. Before this return match, Joshua Kimmich – arguably the best No. 6 in the world – said he was “convinced that Bayern would pass, because they are the best team in the world”.
Let’s just say that these comments did not go unnoticed, especially from Neymar, who used them as additional motivation.
And when Daniele Orsato, who was the referee of the PSG Champions League final lost to the Germans eight months ago, whistled for the last time on Tuesday night at the Parc des Princes, the Brazilian superstar celebrated with Paredes almost in Kimmich’s face – – a scenario which Neymar said was due to fate.
“It’s funny, because I didn’t even celebrate to play with him; it was more with Leo, and I ended up celebrating with him. It’s fate that brought me closer [Kimmich] Neymar said after the match.
There was an element of revenge on Tuesday night even though no payer really put it that way. The 2017 Remontada demons against Barcelona are now gone after the last 16 of this season. The ghosts of the 2020 final against Bayern are now also gone. Earlier this season, the team also sent bad memories against Manchester United from 2019 by winning at Old Trafford.
It has been a season of Champions League retaliation for Paris, and now nothing is stopping them, although Pochettino insists they are not the favorites to win it.