Lun. May 27th, 2024

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Barcelona’s wait for a first Champions League semifinal appearance since 2019 goes on after Xavi Hernández’s side imploded against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday following Ronald Araújo‘s first half sending off at the Olympic Stadium.

Barça were leading 1-0 on the night, 4-2 on aggregate after last week’s first leg win in Paris, when Araujo lightly bundled Bradley Barcola down just outside the area in the 29th minute. The referee quickly branded a red card, and with it Barça’s hopes of reaching the last four disappeared as quickly as Barcola had dropped to the deck, with the game ending 6-4 on aggregate.

PSG’s comeback was led by Ousmane Dembélé on his return to Barcelona. He left Barça for France last summer in a transfer worth €50 million and fierce whistles greeted his every touch. He could afford a smile when he equalized just before half-time, converting Barcola’s cross to get his side back in the tie. It was just the third goal he has scored this season — two of them have come against Barça in the last week.

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Barça may pin their collapse on being down to 10 men, but the truth is they made PSG’s route back into the game easy. Vitinha was left unmarked on the edge of the box from a corner in the 54th minute. He duly smashed in to the bottom corner and then, just after the hour mark, João Cancelo clattered into Dembéle inside the box. Kylian Mbappé, anonymous in the first leg, dispatched the resulting penalty to give PSG the lead in the tie.

The home side did have chances to level, but they came and went, with Mbappé adding his second goal on the counter-attack in the 89th minute to seal PSG’s passage into the semifinal as flares were set off in the away end in the second tier behind the goal where he had just scored.

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If that was the end to this frenetic tie, it is unlikely to be the end to the developing rivalry between the two clubs. Manager Luis Enrique was in the Barça dugout in 2017 when they beat PSG 6-1 to overcome a 4-0 first leg deficit. Now he has helped PSG overturn a first leg defeat in the competition for the first ever time. Before the game, he had said he was convinced that would be the case.

In between those two comebacks, PSG have taken Neymar, Lionel Messi and Dembéle from Barça, while they also hammered the Catalans at Camp Nou when the two sides met in 2021 in the last 16, Mbappé netting a hat trick on that occasion. All of those factors have added an edge to this fixture and it was apparent here, with the extra police presence palpable and supporters chanting their dislike for each other throughout the day in the city all the way up to the stadium in Montjuic.

When 16-year-old Lamine Yamal roasted Nuno Mendes in the 12th minute to set up Raphinha, it looked like the travelling supporters would finally be silenced. Barça were unbeaten in 13 games coming into this match, dating back to Xavi’s January announcement that he will step down when the season ends. They have kept six clean sheets in a row in LaLiga. With a two goal advantage, it looked like tie over.

Robert Lewandowski blazed a chance to add another goal for Barça over the bar before the game swung definitively just before the half hour mark. Araujo was adamant he had not fouled Barcola. The touch was light, but it existed and it is not the sort of decision VAR often intervenes in.

How Barça reacted to losing a man is what will haunt them. Iñigo Martínez came on for Yamal, limiting their counter attack ability, and PSG set up camp in the final third.

Xavi said about going a man down: «We are annoyed. The red card has marked the tie. We were well-organised 11 v 11. The referee was really bad. I told him, he was a disaster. He killed the tie. I don’t like speaking about refs but it has to be said. I don’t understand it.»

Dembélé’s goal just before the break bred confidence and PSG poured forward at the start of the second half. Marc-André ter Stegen was almost caught out by a skidding effort from Achraf Hakimi, Fabián Ruiz shot wide and then, finally, Vitinha made it 2-1 on the night and 4-4 on aggregate. The penalty soon followed as Barça, who conceded two goals in three minutes in the first leg, once again lost their bearings.

Once behind, they did rally. There was a penalty shout turned down on Ilkay Gündogan, which led to a fuming Xavi being sent off for protesting and kicking a barrier on the sideline, before goalkeeper coach José Ramón de la Fuente also received his marching orders. The anger felt as much about a loss of control of the match as it did the decisions on the pitch.

Still, Gianluigi Donnarumma had to save from Lewandowski, with Marquinhos preventing Ferran Torres from tapping in the rebound, and then Raphinha dragged a cross-shot just wide as Barça’s European campaign faded out.

In the 88th minute, Dembélé was whistled off, and a minute later, Mbappé sealed PSG’s passage to the semifinal. The French side will meet Borussia Dortmund in the last four as they continue their bid to win a maiden Champions League trophy.

Barça, meanwhile, head to Real Madrid for El Clásico on Sunday. With Madrid eight points clear at the top of LaLiga, anything but a win would now effectively end their hopes of silverware this season.

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