On the large, rectangular table located in the middle of the home’s dressing room at the Parc des Princes, Kylian Mbappe and Presnel Kimpembe jump as much as possible. Water is thrown at them, Sergio Rico joins them, just like Idrissa Gueye and Rafinha. Other players and staff hit the table in rhythm as they sing, “We are in the semis! We are, we are, we are in the semis!”
Marquinhos, in its immaculate white hoodie, is there too. He was out injured and missed Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich – a result that was good enough to see Paris Saint-Germain advance to the next stage of the Champions League away – but we could hear his voice from the stands, encouraging his teammates.
Leandro Paredes, one of the leaders of this team, continues to shout, “Vamos! Vamos!”
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Manager Mauricio Pochettino has to leave all his media duties after the meeting, but the big smile on his face says it all. This is a happy dressing room – a very happy dressing room. PSG are in the Champions League semi-finals for the second season in a row and they are slowly but surely cementing their place among the best European clubs and multi-year Champions League providers.
This time they got there the right way – over two legs and beat first Lionel Messi and now Bayern, world and European champions. Each time, it was a real fight, a nail-biting scenario. But in both bands, what was prevalent was the spirit and solidarity of Paris Saint-Germain.
Of course, Kylian Mbappe and Keylor Navas were the heroes in the two matches against Barcelona and the one in Munich. Remarkably, the Costa Rica goalkeeper has yet to lose a two-legged Champions League draw he has played in. And Neymar, who was named man on Tuesday, was once again the star of the show, even though he should have taken at least one of the chances he created.
Paris went through, however, because they primarily played as a team. This is the message that Pochettino has been telling his players since day one: We can have great individuals like Neymar, Mbappe or Angel Di Maria, but we can only go far if we do everything, otherwise it will not be possible.
At half-time, when Bayern dominated the game, he asked his men to be calm and that they would score again and win. It happened. On Tuesday, Pochettino told them they would be able to cope with the pressure in the second half after Bayern took the lead just before the break. And they did.
This PSG team won because they have become a definition of mental and collective strengths with special talents within the group.
Of course, they benefited from all the players that Bayern lacked (Robert Lewandowski, Serge Gnabry, Leon Goretzka), but the Parisians also had problems. They had neither Marco Verratti nor Alessandro Florenzi for any match, while Marquinhos only lasted 30 minutes in the first stage and is now out for the first stage of the semi-final. Paredes, who Pochettino has turned into such an important part of the team, was suspended for the match last week.
Paris had their problems, but they rose above them to ensure that their Champions League adventure continued. Before this second leg, Joshua Kimmich – arguably the best No. 6 in the world – said he was “convinced Bayern would review because they are the best team in the world.”
Let’s just say that these comments did not go unnoticed, especially by Neymar, who used them as extra motivation.
And when Daniele Orsato, the referee in the Champions League final PSG lost to the Germans eight months ago, whistled for the last time on Tuesday night at the Parc des Princes, the Brazilian superstar celebrated with Paredes almost in Kimmich’s face – – a scenario that Neymar said, was down on fate.
“It’s funny, because I did not even celebrate messing with him; it was more with Leo, and I ended up celebrating with him. It was fate that placed me close [Kimmich], “Neymar said after the match.
There was an element of revenge Tuesday night, though no payers really said it that way. The demons in Remontada 2017 against Barcelona have now gone after the last 16 of this season. The ghosts in the 2020 final against Bayern are now also gone. Earlier this season, the team also sent the bad memories against Manchester United from 2019 by winning at Old Trafford.
It has been a season of Champions League retaliation for Paris and now there is nothing to stop them, even though Pochettino insists they are not the favorites to win it.