Suddenly there were people running across the pitch, bodies cascading down the stands, a collective hysteria taking hold of the Camp Nou, and the kind of noise that even this famous arena, the biggest football stadium in Europe, had never heard before. Something magical had just happened, something utterly implausible. Football, bloody hell?
How inadequate those two words sound now. All the expletives on Earth would struggle to do justice to this. Barcelona are where they have been every year for 10 years now, into the quarter-finals of the Champions League, but they got there in a way they never have; a way that no one ever has. Not just one comeback, but two. Dead, revived, dead, revived. Somehow, they are still standing.
“If they can score four, we can score six,” Luis Enrique had said. No one believed him and he probably didn’t even believe himself, but it happened. This was absurd, astonishing and agonising too. Barcelona scored three goals in an hour to give them hope that they could produce a miracle to overturn the massacre they suffered in Paris on Valentine’s Day – but that hope was torn from them.
So they scored three more in seven minutes and 17 seconds – 88 said the clock, then 91, then 94.39. This time it was not hope: it was a reality. Ridiculous, but real. Six-one on the night, 6-5 on aggregate. “So many things can happen in 95 minutes,” Luis Enrique had said beforehand, and so many things did; this was a game that will be picked over for days and an occasion that will be relived for years.
An extraordinary, mind-bending match was into its 95th minute and Barcelona’s goalkeeper, Marc-André ter Stegen, was in the Paris Saint-Germain penalty area when Neymar clipped a superb ball into the box that the substitute Sergi Roberto reached, stretching out a toe to volley in the goal that took Barcelona through and made history. From the bench they came, sprinting across the pitch. Some held their heads in their hands, hearts racing, brains struggling to compute it all. This can’t seriously have happened. But, yes. Yes, it had.
Four-nil down from the first leg, Barcelona had brought it back to 4-3 on aggregate, but Edinson Cavani scored the away goal that seemed to have ended it on the hour. The home side needed three more and if the half an hour remaining suggested that might be possible, no one truly believed they would get them. The moment had gone and, while Barcelona did not stop coming forward, there was no immediate fightback. Five minutes went by. Then 10, 15, 20, 25. The game entered the 88th minute and it was all over. They still needed three. But here’s the thing: they only went and got them.
Neymar, superb throughout, scoring two, making another and winning a penalty, curled a free-kick into the top corner. Then, two minutes later, he scored a penalty. And with seconds left he delivered the pass that sent this place into raptures and his team into the quarter-finals.
The Brazilian had said after the first leg that Barcelona had a 1% chance of going through but that it was something to grab on to. By the end, 1% looked generous, even on a night that had begun with supporters wondering if they might actually do this and indeed celebrating two minutes later, when Luis Suárez nodded in the opener.
The fuse was lit. Barcelona were up and running, albeit a little chaotically at times. They got the second four minutes before half-time, when Andrés Iniesta’s backheel was deflected into his own goal by Layvin Kurzawa. “Yes, we can!” chanted the Camp Nou and soon they really believed they could. Even PSG’s late arrival for the second half did not force them to wait long. Neymar was brought down by Thomas Meunier, falling head first at his feet, and Lionel Messi thumped in the penalty. Luis Enrique had said that there would be a moment in the tie when victory was possible and now that moment had arrived.