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Barça are in the Champions League semi finals yet again after winning on the away goals rule against a Paris Saint Germain side that was lethal in attack and pushed Barça right to the limit. The French outfit managed to prevent FCB from playing their usual game, and occasionally had the Catalans right against the ropes. It was probably no coincidence that the home side regained its composure after Messi’s entrance in the second half, and it was eventually Pedro who converted the goal that meant a nervous Camp Nou could end the evening celebrating a heroic win.
Tito Vilanova resolved the pre-match doubts by leaving Messi on the bench and opting for Adriano as Piqué’s partner in the centre of defence. Barça could have taken the lead in the first minute from a Xavi free kick, and that was merely the appetiser for night on which both sides clearly had their eyes set on scoring goals. PSG’s first major chance came when Busquets made an uncharacteristic error, which was rectified by Piqué against Lavezzi. And that was not the first sloppy ball that Barcelona squandered in the first half, in which the midfield failed to string passes together as they usually do in what was an almost exact replica of the first half at the Parc des Princes.
PSG were incommensurable in the air, played the ball well, and were effective with their direct approach – and sometimes seemed to be breaking through the Barça defence with disturbing ease. And most of the clearest chances fell to the Parisians in the first 45 minutes, mainly with long range efforts that brought the very best out of Valdés. His save off Lavezzi in the 24th minute was reminiscent of the one he made off Drogba in the 2009 semis. Off the ball, Barça sometimes looked lost for ideas and found themselves constantly pegging back to cover PSG’s lightning quick breaks, and not always with the confidence that the Camp Nou faithful are used to seeing in their men. Rather than dictate the game, Barça were hanging on as best they could – but boosted by the vociferous home support, and with Alba sorting out a number of problems in defence and Iniesta as effective as ever in attack, they managed to ensure that the first half ended scoreless.
Messi to the rescue
Following the break, PSG continued looking but strong, and disaster struck in the 50th minute when Pastore used his speed to break through on Valdés and beat the Barça keeper with a deft finish. Vilanova responded in the most logical way by ordering Messi to start warming up. The Argentinian came on in the 61st minute, along with Bartra as a replacement for the injured Adriano. The substitution seemed to inject new morale into the home side and their supporters. It was as if the game had started all over again – and for the first time, PSG keeper Sirigu looked under threat. It was Messi who started the move that led to the equaliser, in which he was assisted by Villa and where Pedro delivered the killer blow. The Canary Islander never lets Barça down in times of need.
20 nervous minutes
The final twenty minutes were as epic as football can get. As it stood, Barça had qualified, but PSG only needed one goal to change it all. Barça would normally stick to what they know best – to maintain possession of the ball and go out and attack. But Messi was clearly not fully match fit and so it made more sense to replace Villa with Song in order to boost the physical aspect and for the whole side to pull back and defend. It’s not a tactic Barça are used to employing, but they managed to do the job wonderfully, dominating the ball and leaving next to option for PSG to get the goal they so desperately needed. There were huge sighs of relief all round when the final whistle blew. The agony was over and Barcelona are into the semi finals for the sixth year in a row.
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