Barca find pride despite another Champions League collapse

Barca find pride despite another Champions League collapse

April 17, 2024 at 9:15 AM
Barcelona's Brazilian forward Raphinha hit three goals in the PSG tie but his side were eliminated
Barcelona's Brazilian forward Raphinha hit three goals in the PSG tie but his side were eliminated. Photo: Josep LAGO / AFP
Source: AFP

⚽️ Bookmark Sports Brief's Live Football Fixtures; Live Scores; Results and Tables section ⚽️

Barcelona woke up with a familiar sinking feeling on Wednesday, another Champions League hangover, after Paris Saint-Germain thrashed them 4-1 at home to eliminate them in the quarter-finals.

After a string of painful European exits the five-time champions extended the list, meaning their wait to lift the trophy again will stretch to at least a decade, although this time around Barcelona can find shards of hope and pride among the wreckage.

Leading by two goals in the tie after their 3-2 win in Paris and Raphinha's early strike, the outcome hinged on Barcelona defender Ronald Araujo's red card after 29 minutes that left his team unable to cope with the quality of PSG's attackers.

Ousmane Dembele, Vitinha and then Kylian Mbappe's brace helped PSG rout Barcelona and progress 6-4 on aggregate, cutting short the Catalans' revival, snapping their 13-match unbeaten run.

Madrid-based media were gleeful, celebrating Mbappe's role in the knock-out, ahead of his expected move to the Spanish capital in the summer.

"Mbappe kills Barca," ran the headline in AS. In Catalonia the focus was instead on Araujo's red card after 29 minutes which turned the tide in PSG's favour.

"Dismissed from Europe," wrote Diario Sport, while Mundo Deportivo said it was a "lethal red".

Beyond the taste of defeat from being dusted up by Mbappe on home soil, and despite the ugly-looking scoreline, there were differences.

When Barcelona threw away huge leads against Roma and Liverpool in 2018 and 2019, mentally they had caved.

That same fragility was on show in 2020 when Bayern Munich hammered them 8-2, and the years since have somehow been more ignominious.

PSG thrashed them 4-1 in the last 16 first leg in 2021 in a match which was barely a contest, while in the subsequent two seasons they failed to escape their group.

In this campaign Barcelona battled well against Europe's best sides and were it not for Araujo's dismissal, might have progressed.

"We are a club, a team in construction, constructing something that could be fruitful and beautiful," Xavi told reporters.

"We've competed against top level teams, Porto, Napoli, PSG, and we've been better -- at least until certain decisions, or circumstances that we cannot control.

"From these situations is when you learn most, unfortunately, in life, and in football too."

'Back stronger'

Although PSG had more of the ball and were pressing Barca well, with the brilliant Bradley Barcola making inroads down the left, the hosts had defended solidly until Araujo's red card.

"Today playing with 10 against 11 is practically impossible," said Xavi.

"I'm very proud of the fans, we've got a bit of the excitement and hope back in the Champions League -- the club will be back, stronger still."

Xavi will not be, he says, having decided in January to leave at the end of the season. Despite rumblings that he might change his mind following the team's dramatic improvement, so far he has not.

Although Mbappe's 89th minute strike turned PSG's triumph into a rout, this was not a night on which Barcelona were exposed.

Araujo's mistake in bringing down Barcola and Joao Cancelo's defensive errors cost them, while young defender Pau Cubarsi, 17, did his best to hold the fort after that.

Lamine Yamal, 16, helped set up Raphinha brilliantly for the first goal but was sacrificed after Araujo's red card, leaving Barcelona without oxygen in attack.

In those two young talents, along with Pedri and injured duo Gavi and Alejandro Balde, Barcelona have the potential to come back strongly.

The only embarrassment came from Xavi's fit of pique which saw him sent off, and his insistence on criticising a referee he described as "very bad".

And a handful of Barca supporters who threw stones at the team's own bus upon arrival, mistaking it for PSG's.

Otherwise, as they dust themselves down, Barcelona will consider this season's Champions League campaign evidence they are returning to Europe's elite.

Whether they can establish themselves there permanently is another matter, given their financial woes and no clear plan for Xavi's replacement next season.

AFP photo