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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

PSG hold off spirited Barcelona to advance

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Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman says Lionel Messi can have no doubts over the “great future” the club has after they bowed out of the Champions League with a spirited performance at Paris St-Germain.

Messi, 33, who has won the competition with Barcelona on four occasions, outlined his frustrations at the Nou Camp last summer and was heavily linked with a move to PSG prior to this last-16 tie.

However, while the result saw Barca fail to reach the last eight of the competition for the first time in 14 years, Koeman says the manner of their exit could help to persuade the Argentine to continue his long association with the club.

“Leo (Messi) has seen for quite some time that the team is improving thanks to all the changes we’ve made,” said Koeman.

“Particularly, we have young players of great quality. We’ve got a great future ahead. Leo can’t have any doubts about what the future holds for this team.

“We are departing this Champions League in a very different manner from the way we did last season. In this game, we hit our level and that’s the road we have to follow.”

But a day after watching his old nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo bow out of the competition with Juventus, Messi befell the same fate on what could yet prove to be his final Champions League appearance for Barcelona.

His stunning 25-yard equaliser had given the visitors hope of staging a remarkable comeback, with Kylian Mbappe earlier putting the hosts in front against the run of play with a penalty.

Koeman’s side had arrived at the Parc des Princes seeking to become the first side to overturn a three-goal deficit from the first leg at home by delivering a performance on the scale of ‘La Remontada’.

But some wasteful finishing, including a Messi penalty that was deflected on to the bar by PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas on the stroke of half time, sealed their fate.

Replays suggested that Messi and Barca might have had a case for a re-take with PSG midfielder Marco Verratti appearing to encroach before the spot-kick was taken, but VAR ruled against that.

Joan Laporta’s return to Barcelona for a second spell as president has provided the club with a link to its recent trophy-laden past.

And elements of Barca and Messi’s performance in Paris also rolled back the years.

The way Mauricio Pochettino’s side emphatically won the first leg left some observers fearing that another chastening evening was on the cards for a Barca side demolished 8-2 in a one-sided quarter-final against Bayern Munich last term.

But the manner in which they set about PSG from the off, dominating possession and peppering the home goal could have seen the Catalans retrieve their sizable deficit before half time.

Ousmane Dembele in particular was guilty of spurning several excellent opportunities, while Sergino Dest was unfortunate to see his powerful drive cannon to safety off the crossbar after the faintest of touches by Navas.

PSG, who began tentatively in possession and were temporarily stunned by Messi’s brilliant finish, also deserve some credit.

Mbappe, who has scored four goals over the tie, beat Messi’s record to become the youngest player to reach 25 goals in the competition when clinically converting after Clement Lenglet had fouled Mauro Icardi, while Navas, Presnel Kimpembe and Marquinhos all starred at the other end of the pitch.

With Neymar still to return from injury, last season’s finalists will fear few sides when the draw for the quarter and semi-finals of the competition is made on Friday, 19 March (11:00 GMT).

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