Blaise Matuidi’s deflected effort with almost the last kick of the game salvaged a 2-2 draw for Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal with Barcelona.
The goal was the culmination of a frantic final 11 minutes in which Zlatan Ibrahimovic had cancelled out Lionel Messi’s first-half effort before Xavi put Barcelona back in front from the penalty spot in the last minute of the 90. But Matuidi’s fortuitous strike gives PSG a huge boost heading to Camp Nou next week, although Barcelona remain heavy favorites to progress.
That opinion may change slightly, however, depending on the fitness of Messi, who was taken off at half time with a hamstring injury.
It had been a strange match, in which the Ligue 1 leaders began brightly but ultimately will count themselves fortunate to emerge with the scores still even, albeit with the concession of two potentially crucial away goals.
For 38 minutes, the hosts did everything right. Taking the bold step of playing two strikers against Barcelona, manager Carlo Ancelotti made it work by having Javier Pastore, in particular, playing extremely narrow on the left in the knowledge that Barcelona only had Dani Alves on that side.
Without the ball, the home side were extremely compact and well organized with their flair players working tirelessly and Thiago Silva outstanding in the center of defense.
PSG were also a threat on the break. Indeed, the only thing that was missing from their early showing was that they failed to find the net with two good openings.
Barcelona were lucky to escape early when Ezequiel Lavezzi got on the end of Pastore’s chest down into the box and turned inside Gerard Pique before a desperate saving tackle by Sergio Busquets carried the ball agonizingly onto the post.
They came close too when Victor Valdes had to get down sharply to deny Ibrahimovic’s powerful low free-kick.
PSG’s strategy was embodied when Alex won the ball with a superb challenge on the edge of his own box, allowing Lucas to surge upfield with his blistering pace. The Brazilian then shifted the ball to Ibrahimovic, but the Swede could only drag his shot wide of the far post.
Soon Ancelotti would be ruing those missed chances.
Having half cleared a Barcelona corner, PSG switched off for the first time in the contest as they rushed out and Dani Alves played an admittedly superb pass with the outside of his right foot to find Messi running back into the box and the forward finished with a fine shot into the far corner.
As expected the goal greatly perturbed PSG as their strategy was now called into question and Barcelona began to dominate.
It could well have been 2-0 before the break as Messi’s curled effort form the edge of the box just missed the top corner in what was to prove the Argentinian’s last real involvement.
Messi’s departure was in theory a boost to PSG for the start of the second half. But as the half wore on, Barcelona, while lacking real menace in attack were subduing PSG with their dominance in possession.
There could have been further goals, but Alexis Sanchez reverted to his poor form of earlier in the campaign as he twice failed to make the most of being left free from crosses into the box.
With 15 minutes remaining, PSG finally began to exert some pressure. Unsurprisingly, given the discrepancy in heights of the two sides, it was aerial deliveries into the box that did the damage. Ibrahimovic had already missed another opportunity to find the net when he fired straight at Valdes from close range, but minutes he got his goal.
Barcelona, though, have every reason to be aggrieved at its award. From a Maxwell free-kick, Thiago Silva headed against the post and Ibrahimovic was on hand to squeeze a shot home with his left foot, although replays clearly showed that he was offside.
That kick-started a frantic period of goal-mouth action out of keeping with what went before it in the period.
First, Salvatore Sirigu rashly brought down Sanchez in the area as the Chilean looked to get onto the ball going away from goal. There may have been no Messi, but it didn’t matter as Xavi calmly stroked the ball into the corner.
That looked set to be the final act, but from a hopeful lofted ball into the box from Christophe Jallet, Ibrahimovic headed down and Matuidi’s low shot took just enough of a deflection to mean Valdes could only get a hand to the ball as it squirmed into the net.