Paris Saint-Germain broke Atalanta hearts in the dying minutes of their Champions League quarter-final clash on Wednesday night.
The Serie outfit, who have enthralled Europe with their attacking brand of football, were minutes away from becoming the unlikeliest of Champions League semi-finalists.
Former Chelsea midfielder Mario Pasalic’s 26th-minute goal was the difference between the two sides until the last minute of normal time.
But PSG defender Marquinhos tapped in the equaliser in the final minute of normal time and the unlikeliest of PSG players in Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting scored the winner in the 93rd minute to send the Parisians through to their first Champions League semi-final in 25 years.
#1 Stoke City flop sends PSG to the semi-finals
English football fans will remember Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting for his one-year stint at Stoke City where he scored just five times in 32 appearances for the club and was part of a team which got relegated from the Premier League in 2018.
Eyebrows were raised when PSG picked him up on a free transfer in the summer of 2018 and he has been a bit-part player in a squad of superstars at the Parc des Princes.
Until last night, Choupo-Moting was famous for preventing his own side from scoring a goal with his blunder on the goal-line.
But the forward became the unlikeliest of heroes for PSG on a night they needed him to step up. He provided the far post cross that led to Marquinhos’ 90th minute equaliser and the Cameroonian was at the end of Kylian Mbappe’s pass to tap in the winner.
Choupo-Moting’s ninth goal for PSG could also turn out to be the most important goal of his career.
#2 Neymar left his finishing boots inside the dressing room
The Brazilian was on song on Wednesday night and was the creative hub of PSG’s team. He was playing well enough to create chances on his own throughout the game. But despite all his qualities in the build-up, he was uncharacteristically poor with his finishing.
In the first half, he shot some way wide of the goal when he was through one-on-one with the goalkeeper. He latched onto a stray pass from an Atalanta defender in the final third and was again favourite to score, only to blast the ball into the empty stands with his left foot.
Neymar ultimately provided the pass for Marquinhos’ equaliser and was again involved in the build-up to the 93rd-minute winner. But if he had his finishing boots on, PSG might not have needed a late rescue act from Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
#3 Keylor Navas was pivotal in keeping PSG in the game
The former Real Madrid goalkeeper was on his toes to keep Atalanta away and keep them from scoring more than one goal in the first half.
While he could do little to keep Mario Pasalic from scoring the first goal midway through the first half, he made some key saves before the break to keep PSG in the game.
Keylor Navas tipped a Hans Hateboer header from nestling into the goal in the first half and was agile to make a couple of very good saves, which could have taken the game beyond PSG’s reach.
Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting will attract the headlines for his winner but Navas’ role was key in helping PSG reach the Champions League semi-finals. However, the goalkeeper left the field in the 79th minute with an injury.
#4 PSG managed to get over their mental fragility on the big stage
PSG have had a history of bottling it in the knockout rounds of the Champions League in recent years.
The abject defeat against Barcelona in the Round of 16 of the 2016-17 Champions League has continued to haunt the Parisians. A year later they were outclassed by Real Madrid over two legs.
Last season Manchester United scripted an unlikely comeback in the second leg of the last 16, after PSG won 2-0 at Old Trafford. The Red Devils became the first team in Champions League history to come back from a two-goal deficit in the home leg.
Their manner of defeats in the Champions League knockout rounds were disheartening and smacked of a mental fragility they suffered on the big stage.
Losing 1-0 at Atalanta on Wednesday night was following the same script until the Parisians showed the rare bottle to scored two late goals.
#5 Atalanta were a credit to Italian football and Bergamo in the Champions League this season
Gian Piero Gasperini’s side finished third in Serie and scored an astonishing 98 goals in a league which is known for their good defending.
Atalanta just sneaked into the last 16 of the Champions League with a second-place finish in Group C behind Manchester City but against Valencia, their attacking football was on full display.
They smashed the Spanish giants 4-1 in the home leg and took the game to the opposition in Spain as well, winning 4-3 at the Mestalla. The 8-4 aggregate scoreline is what Atalanta are all about this season – fearless attacking football.
A late heartbreak against PSG should not wipe away their achievements this season. They will be back in the Champions League next season and hopefully, they will manage to hold on to their best players.