It’s taken a couple seasons and admittedly, they basically spent their way to the big time. But we have possibly seen the emergence of a new power into European soccer’s big stage this week. Paris Saint-Germain, the Qatari-backed Ligue 1 side that’s risen to the top in France, took their biggest scalp to date in Europe, eliminating Chelsea deep in extra time at Stamford Bridge to advance to the Champions League final four. More impressively, PSG played 90 plus minutes with only 10 men after Zlatan Ibrahimovic was contentiously sent off in the 32nd minute for a collision with Oscar. Sending Ibra off was in fact the first of many bad calls from referee Bjorn Kuipers, who nearly stole the headlines himself early on.
It was supposed to be Zlatan’s big day. With the tie finely balanced at 1-1, the Swede had the chance to answer those who accuse him of not impacting big games, by coming to London and finally coming up with a big goal in a big match. Thankfully in the end, it didn’t really matter for PSG. They would do just fine without him.
Robbed of their talisman, PSG responded with energy and industry. The 10 men on the field worked tirelessly to keep Chelsea at bay and see out the half. Although they were lucky not to have a penalty called against them when Edinson Cavani brought down Diego Costa in the box. But if the ref’s calls were contentious, the actual match was even more so, with a total of seven yellow cards doled out between the sides.
While Ibrahimovic was denied his chance to have a big moment on the grand stage, Edinson Cavani got his. And he blew it. With nearly an hour gone by and the match still scoreless, the Uruguayan was played onside with just keeper Thibaut Courtois to beat. Cavani rounded the Belgian only to rocket his shot off the post.
It would be Chelsea who would finally break the deadlock through Gary Cahill connecting to a fluffed shot from Costa and blasting home. With less than 10 minutes on the clock, it looked as if the tie was Chelsea’s. But David Luiz had other ideas. The Brazilian defender, who’s been so often maligned in the past year, came up with the biggest goal of PSG’s season when he headed in on a set-piece with less than five minutes to go; forcing the game to extra time.
The extra time started off poorly for PSG. Captain Thiago Silva went into an aerial challenge and was seen to handle the ball. Chelsea was awarded a penalty, which Eden Hazard converted by coolly sending Salvatore Sirigu the wrong way. This time it seemed, surely the 10 men of PSG were beaten. Could they possibly have enough left in the tank for a response? They did.
With barely five minutes remaining in the second period of extra time, Silva redeemed himself. The Brazilian headed home the equalizer, giving PSG the edge on away goals and knocking Chelsea out of the competition.
They’ve struggled in Ligue 1 this season and many have questioned their right to stand among the big boys in European football. But down to 10 men against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, this PSG side rose to the occasion. Whether they’ve announced themselves as a new power in European football, only time will tell. But one thing is certain, this PSG side will be one of the teams others will be hoping to avoid as Europe’s elite club competition heads into its final four.