Luis Suarez and Barcelona's dark arts break PSG hearts in UCL miracle
With all the desperation of an amorous drunk at kicking out time, Barcelona made the impossible possible on Wednesday night.
In a stirring but nevertheless outrageous comeback to defeat Paris Saint-Germain 6-5 on aggregate to reach the Champions League quarterfinals, this wonderful sport taught us that once again, skilled masters of the dark arts can prosper. Those who stretch every sinew, within or outside of the rules, can prevail no matter what the problem is. The self-proclaimed proponents of beautiful football had to abandon the purest means of playing with elimination stalking them at every turn, right until the astonishing denouement.
"Football, bloody hell," Sir Alex Ferguson said after the original Miracle of the Camp Nou with Manchester United in 1999.
"Football, piss off," presumably the reaction on Wednesday night among the crestfallen PSG contingent. And Madridistas, of course.
Bloody hell, Barcelona not only bent the rules to break Parisian hearts, they ripped up the regulations and, thanks in part to the majestic Neymar, made a mockery of those who doubted them.
Nobody in world football plays the game completely fairly. From Premier League to nonleague, La Liga to the Tercera Division, sometimes a good old scrap here, simulation there can be used to overwhelm opponents. A win-at-costs mentality separates serial winners with the likes of Arsenal and though the dark arts can be quite alluring at times in its audacity, it still warrants commenting on during misty-eyed recollections of what on earth happened at the Camp Nou.
And weren't PSG overwhelmed. Gerard Pique claimed Barcelona would need more midwives to deal with a baby boom in reaction to this mind-blowing outcome and Luis Suarez, a chiselled competitor from Salto, Uruguay, displayed all the resistance of a child offered candy when he flopped to the floor under no discernible challenge from Marquinhos. Penalty. Neymar stepped up, smashed it home for 5-1 -- his earlier free kick to make it 4-1 was a thing of sumptuous beauty -- and Barca had their way back.
They were at it all night. Especially after Edinson Cavani made it 3-1 on 62 minutes to surely end the contest. Out came the familiar dives, snide fouls and general admonishment at referee Deniz Aytekin. It worked.
Nobody should be surprised Suarez found a way through nefarious means. It's what he, and those with an iron will to win, do. Faced with agony and despair, the winners separate themselves from the also-rans because they find a way, by fair means or foul.
Of course it wasn't a foul on Suarez, much like the incident a few minutes before when he fell inside the area only to see ref Aytekin say no. Marquinhos barely laid a glove on Suarez yet the former Liverpool man comically engineered an unfair advantage from the penalty spot by throwing himself to the floor, clutching his throat. It was more B-Movie than Oscar-winning, but the performance didn't matter because Aytekin bought it.
Tots Amb L'Equip -- everyone with the team -- read a banner at the Camp Nou and Barcelona could count on some favourable decisions as well as fervent home support. Neymar engineered a penalty when he made the most of Thomas Meunier's slip to collide with the PSG defender in the box and a spot kick was given, following some cajoling from the home players who crowded the referee, who hadn't given the penalty but changed his mind following consultation with the extra official behind the goal.
As the clock ticked past 88 minutes and the score 3-1 on the night but 5-3 in PSG's favour, still Barcelona probed. Neymar claimed his side had a 1 percent chance of going through ahead of kickoff and their antics ensured they remain alive and kicking -- just like Neymar himself on Marquinhos when all appeared lost -- in the Champions League.
This isn't an attack on Barcelona, and barely anyone in Catalonia will care this miracle came with a caveat; it's more an acknowledgement that this surprising turn of events was made possible, in part, by an unsurprising reaction to adversity.
Life isn't fair. Football isn't fair. Paris Saint-Germain found that out to their cost on Wednesday but you could argue their feebleness meant they were asking for it.
They completed four passes between the 85th and 95th minutes. Three of those were from kickoffs after Barcelona had scored. They completely bottled it.
They had no answer. Not many would do when faced with an onslaught of such magnitude. But while Barcelona live to fight another day, their delirious fans and those at the club will do well to be warned that similar pitfalls and potholes could await them in the last eight and beyond.
We are in the deeper stages of the knockouts now; fight or flight, kill or be killed.
Alex Shaw is General Editor at ESPN FC. He has written for national newspapers across the world for over 10 years. Twitter: @AlexShawESPN.