Madrid: Luis Enrique rattled the words off, trying to make sense of the game he had just watched, his pace quickening until eventually he stopped, sat back, puffed his cheeks out and said: “And that’s it, here we are.” Everyone laughed. It was, in fact, the greatest comeback in Champions League history we had just witnessed.
After everything he has been through during the past month, the Barcelona coach was where he had never expected to be, however much he claimed to have believed in the most implausible of comebacks – and even if he had insisted the day before that his team could score six.
It is only seven days since he announced he will be leaving at the end of the season; three goals in seven minutes against Paris Saint-Germain here means he could yet do so with another European Cup after an historic night that stretched the limits of credibility. “It was more than a thriller,” Luis Enrique said. Certainly it had the most implausible script.
The Catalans still required three goals in the 88th minute but, with the help of five minutes’ added time, Barcelona got them, somehow. Now they are in the Champions League quarter-finals for the 10th year in a row. “I have never experienced anything like it,” said a breathless Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti.
“It is difficult to explain in words,” added Luis Enrique. “This is a sport for crazy people, a unique sport. Any kid who was in the Camp Nou tonight will never forget this in their life. It was a torrent of feelings. I don’t cry – I would like to, but the tears don’t come out. But I enjoyed this as much as the rest; as much as those who cried.” There was also satisfaction in the identity of the winning goal scorer. “I say to Sergi Roberto: ‘You used to score for the youth team, why do you never do it for the first team?’” said Luis Enrique. “And then, what the hell, he goes and gets that goal tonight. I am delighted for him – I have a lot of trust in him and affection for him.
“Faith is the word that best defines this tonight,” he continued. “Above all, this is a victory of faith. The faith the players showed, the faith the supporters showed.
I have only ever seen the stadium like this once before, and that was back when I was playing. Normally with 10 minutes to go, people are leaving the stadium. But tonight they didn’t.
If any went, stuff them, they have missed an historic night. In the end we have had a special night.
“I would like to dedicate this to all Barcelona fans, but especially those that kept supporting us after the 4-0 [in Paris]. We had that mourning on Valentine’s Day, and we were given a good going over. We had nothing to lose today, we had lost everything in Paris. But this wonderful sport is unique, it always gives you the chance for revenge.”
He added: “I would like to have a party, but the bad news is that tomorrow we have to get back to work.” Others will, though, with Gerard Piqué adding: “There will be a lot of love made tonight.”
The PSG coach, Unai Emery, blamed his players for switching off. “When we analyse it, it is true that we have missed a major opportunity,” said the Spaniard.
“The first half was our fault and we didn’t manage to press or do things with the ball. We defended very deep and they had more chances to score. We made mistakes for the two first-half goals.
“We were calmer in the second half and better positioned. We improved and had a chance for 3-2. The refereeing decisions went against us and we lost everything in the closing minutes. Barcelona are capable of doing that. It was all or nothing for them in the final minutes. There’s no explanation for what happened.”
Perhaps ominously, PSG’s Qatari president, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, said: “There can be no excuses, we did not play in the first half. After winning 4-0 in the first leg this is very difficult to accept.” Agencies
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