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Two first-half goals from Neymar were enough to book FC Barcelona a spot in Friday’s Champions League semi-final draw, as Luis Enrique’s side denied Paris Saint-Germain any chance of a comeback from last week’s 3–1 Barça win in Paris with a performance that combined champagne moments and cool-headed determination.
Barça showed their attacking intent from the off and were harrying the PSG players all over the pitch. David Luiz got an early yellow for a foul on Luis Suárez and the visitors were chasing shadows as the Catalans shifted up through the gears and began to threaten.
Threat turned to reality before the first quarter of an hour was over when Andrés Iniesta, wearing the captain’s armband, picked up the ball in his own area, slalomed past four PSG players and broke forward before releasing an inch-perfect ball into Neymar’s path, which the Brazilian controlled and rounded the keeper to score his fifth goal of the tournament this season. Now 4–1 down on aggregate, the French side attempted to hit back quickly, but even though Zlatan Ibrahimovic found the net on 17 minutes with PSG’s first chance, he was well offside.
Neymar doubles the lead
On 22 minutes Dani Alves, Suárez and Lionel Messi combined well, only for the Argentinian’s shot to fly high. But the Camp Nou faithful didn’t have to wait too long for second goal, as just past the half hour mark, Alves swung in a lovely cross with his left peg and Neymar left Luiz standing as he rose to head home from just outside the six-yard box. Now the team were cruising and showing brilliant movement and control all over the pitch, whether breaking quickly on the counter or probing patiently as they held onto the ball, with Iniesta sparkling in midfield and Alves enjoying the freedom of the right flank.
Xavi takes over for the second half
Not many teams could feel comfortable taking off the undoubted star of the first half at the break, but then again not many teams have a player of Xavi’s gifts to slot in to Iniesta’s place. Ten minutes into the half, Sergio Busquets was also withdrawn, with Sergi Roberto given a run out. As Barça seemed happy to drop deeper and allow PSG more possession, Marco Verratti hit a well-struck drive wide on 58 minutes, but that was the limit of their threat till Ibrahimovic pulled a good stop from Ter Stegen a quarter of an hour later.
Although they appeared to have taken their foot off the gas a little, Barça always looked as if they had plenty in reserve and with Pedro Rodríguez on for Suárez for the last 15 minutes as the game began to open up again. Messi very nearly put the icing on the cake with almost the last kick of the game, firing just wide.
In many ways a game of two halves then, with the Iniesta-led effervescent brilliance on show in the first half well complemented by a solid business-like performance after the break that ensured a semi-final berth and leaves Barça two games away from the final in Berlin.
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