TWILIGHT IN PARIS

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This time, it was neither the Eiffel Tower nor the Arc de Triomphe. The discussion was not about famous paintings at La Louvre or of how a city invoked romance. Paris, was the venue, but the main attraction was the football over at the Parc de Princes.

This is what the Qatari aristocrats dreamed of when they poured millions upon millions into Paris Saint Germain. A world class team had been formed to supplement the world class stadium in the world class city. All that was missing now was a world class game.

It is Champions league nights that can deliver that, and no greater team than Barcelona. As such, the bright colours with which the Catalan outfit arrived with at PSG’s stadium meant that as brightly as those colours may be, this was the stage on which no eyes should ever drift from.

The first leg of the Champions League quarter final between PSG and Barcelona illuminated. The stars were there to shine under the Paris sky. The talent, the skill on display was mesmeric. And Messi –meric.

The greatest player in the world sadly only had 45 minutes. But it is he who took full advantage of his one night in Paris. On 38 minutes, after having been uncharacteristically nullified for such time, he popped up and did what he does best – score.

That proved to be all. His next attempt at goal stretched his hamstring, and by half time, he was gone.

But he was not missed. Not when there still was the richest and most famous footballer on the planet on the pitch.

David Beckham had been brought to PSG to add gloss to an already glossy side. A statement of intent. The cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake. On this night however, he was not just a decorous figure. His experience was invaluable. So too was his immense sense of awareness and passing range. He seemed far removed from those touchline hugging days and played brilliantly in a central midfield role. Then again, this was the position in which he played last time he won this tournament in the 1999 Final.

Ultimately, his creaking body gave way and a 68th minute lunge on Andres Iniesta was enough to show just who among them was 37 years of age. That would signal his end, replaced by Marco Veratti who is 17 years his junior.

But Becks had already proved his worth. He may have not deecided the game, but he more than decorated it.

The Parisiens though continued the good work and on 79 minutes, they equalised.

It was a goal that was telling. Barca’s ineffectivety at defending set-pieces, Zlatan Ibrahimovich’s urge to make a difference and a sleeping linesman. The goal should not have stood as Ibra was offside when Thiago Silva rose to head. But as the header cannoned off the upright, the Swede saw the opportunity presented to him and finally took it.

He should have scored earlier, but he had not. His knack however of playing against his illustrious former clubs, and scoring against them – continues.

More importantly though, this was an indication of just why 70 million Euros had been splashed in AC Milan’s direction in the summer. Ibrahimovich and Thiago Silva, combining to bring PSG level was the justification needed for why so much was spent on them, and why so much has been placed on their shoulders.

Apart from Ibrahimovich, Silva was probably PSG’s best player on the night. The captain led by example – calm in possession, perfect with his timing and glorious in sending an overall gladiatorial vibe to his teammates that more than most typified the slogan atop the stadium’s upper terraces. Ici c’est Paris. This is Paris.

But, the game did not end there and as if by accident, Barca got and converted a penalty. It was a harsh reality – a lesson that at this level, chances have to be taken when they present themselves. PSG had created more, Barca was on the brink of destroying them.

However, the Parisians would not be denied. A long ball was nodded onto the path of Blaise Matuidi by Ibrahimovich. The Frenchman swung his left foot ferociously and the connection was good. Victor Valdes seemed to have it covered but the legs of Marc Batra changed the ball’s direction, trajectory, and destination. Destined for the arms of Valdes, the slight deflection caused him to instinctively react – but he was too late. Though he got a hand to it, the pace and power on the ball, though now altered, was enough to send the ball trickling in past the goal line.

That was that. 2-2 it finished. For a Champions League quarter final, a match of absolute quality and entertainment. A magnifique night in Paris.

 

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