Not even the most far-fetched Hollywood script could have predicted what happened at the Camp Nou on Wednesday.
Barcelona, facing a 4-0 deficit after a dismal performance in Paris, rallied to create the best comeback in Champions League, or possibly all of sporting, history.
When you are faced with such a mountain to climb, especially after Cavani’s crushing away goal, how do you tackle the challenge psychologically? How much of an impact does being a serial winner impact your mentality of such a deficit? What role did the crowd, stadium and occasion play in producing a match for the ages?
Oddly, the game in fell flat in the middle of both halves. PSG were 1-0 down early, but that was nothing to panic about. The first half was cagey and Barcelona were lacking a clinical final pass to convert their wealth of possession.
The Catalans have been inconsistent this season, with their superstars bailing them out time and again to remain stubbornly at the summit of La Liga. Goals such Andrés Iniesta’s enforced mistake by Kurzawa, and Messi’s penalty either side of the half were a testament to this.
Then, the unthinkable.
Cavani’s controlled volley put the tie seemingly beyond the Spanish giants, with the all important away goal meaning three further goals were required to overturn the deficit.
On we waltzed to the inevitable rhythm created by the away goals rule.
Until the 88th minute…
Neymar then did what Neymar does. Scored an absolute Daniel-Day-Lewis of a free kick, collected the ball and ran towards the centre circle.
chomped dived his way to a penalty which his Brazilian attacking partner duly converted. Suddenly our inevitable rhythm was a Barcelona quickstep to the quarter-finals.
A Sergi Roberto toe-poke volley and dreamland was reached.
Let’s step off the pitch and look at this more broadly.
Barcelona are a team packed full of winners; Messi, Suarez, Iniesta, Neymar, Busquets, Pique, Mascherano. All of these guys have been in the grandest of stages and done it.
This means that when they are in the deepest and darkest of footballing metaphors, they are the last to stop believing. Sir Alex Ferguson would berate his players for rushing things in the final minutes of any game when needing a goal. Composure, calmness and belief in your technique would always trump hastiness.
How reassuring must it have been to have Neymar standing over that free kick, or Messi that penalty, or Pique organising things from the back?
It seems odd to say, but tt cannot be understated how much easier it is to win, when you have already won.
It becomes a habit that the likes of Woods and Federer just seemed to end up doing.
The reason why this game was so remarkable, is that is was not a dramatic momentum swing in favour of the individual that can happen in Golf or Tennis.
It was a collective effort to produce six goals, when anything less would have been failure.
An incredibly important factor of the win was the atmosphere in the Camp Nou. Having 100,000 fans knowing the impossible was to happen created a environment of absolute belief.
BBC’s Andy West summed it up the best;
Unlike so much of modern sport, there was nothing contrived or orchestrated about those celebrations, about that moment.
This was deep, instinctive passion at its most authentic and unrefined. Just pure, wordless, thoughtless exhilaration. And it is surely for moments like this, which come along once every few years if you’re lucky, that sport is so compelling.