Paris Saint-Germain are habitually ridiculed as chokers. But maybe they will soon have to be referred to as European champions, at last. Certainly Mauricio Pochettino’s team showed immense fortitude and wonderful flashes of skill to depose the Champions League holders and advance to a semi-final with either Manchester City or Borussia Dortmund.
They may have lost this second leg to a goal by Eric Maxim Choupo‑Moting but PSG emerged triumphant from a thrilling duel thanks to the three goals they had scored in the first leg and a second-leg performance that answered many questions about their character. Their win avenged the defeat to Bayern in last year’s final and raised their hopes of a glorious near future.
Bayern created many chances and might have prevailed if Robert Lewandowski had not been absent through injury but, on the other hand, PSG were also deprived of important players, including their captain, Marquinhos, for this game. But they performed with mighty spirit and discipline and carried a counterattacking threat that will strike fear into any opponents. It was almost shocking that PSG did not score despite enchanting displays by Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Ángel Di María. Neymar was the best of that magical trio and twice struck the frame of the goal.
“They are fantastic players, everyone can appreciate their capacity and quality, but they also work so hard,’ said a jubilant Pochettino. “That is our job, to try to find a way to put this talent working towards the team.”
Di María suggested this match set a new standard for PSG. He said: “The team worked harder than ever and I think the win is deserved. “We are working really well. In training there is a lot of concentration from all of us.”
PSG showed from the outset that they had no intention of sitting on their first-leg lead, as Mbappé nearly extended it after less than three minutes. But after being released down the right by Neymar, the striking phenomenon rifled a low shot wide of the far post. Bayern tried to retort quickly but PSG proved to be tighter than expected, regularly preventing Kingsley Coman and Leroy Sané from finding teammates despite frequent raids down the wings. The wingers were sometimes their own worst enemy, choosing the wrong option or botching a well-intentioned pass.
For all Bayern’s pressure, PSG looked far more menacing on the counter. Mbappé bamboozled Benjamin Pavard in the area and cut the ball back for Neymar, whose shot was blocked by Manuel Neuer.
Bayern had a clear plan to subdue Neymar by ambushing him in numbers every time he got the ball but the Brazilian is used to such treatment and found ingenious ways to wriggle free whenever PSG broke. Neuer had to rush out to deny him in the 27th minute after another counterattack led by Mbappé. Then Neymar struck the frame of the goal twice in three minutes. First he curled an outrageous shot against the crossbar from over 20 yards after duping Coman with a beautiful piece of skill; then he nudged a shot against a post from eight yards after being set up by Mbappé at the end of a lovely move.
Just as Bayern seemed to be crumbling, they scored. Keylor Navas could only parry a shot from eight yards by David Alaba after neat service by Thomas Müller, and Choupo-Moting showed the sharpest reactions, beating Presnel Kimpembe to the rebound and heading the ball over the line from close range.
Bayern needed a second goal but knew Neymar and Mbappé could destroy them on the counter in a flash. The suspense was captivating, the skill level at times sublime. Alaba, embroiled in a high-class midfield battle with Idrissa Gueye all evening, blasted just wide from the edge of the area early in the second half. Then Neymar scooped a half-volley high over the bar at the other end after a cute pass by Leandro Paredes. For all the vibrant attacking, the finishing needed fine-tuning.
Neymar contributed to another marvellous attack in the 53rd minute but, after sumptuous skill from Di María, came millimetres short of prodding the ball over the line. Then Sané wrong-footed the PSG defence with a smart pass to Müller but Navas smothered the shot.
Bayern turned up the tempo but never panicked as time ticked down, trusting they would eventually forge another opening despite the resilience of PSG, for whom Danilo shone in place of Marquinhos. But they were wrong. PSG got bodies in the way of everything, proving to be too strong, too tenacious.