PARIS: French giants Paris Saint-Germain booked their spot in the Champions League quarter-finals as Barcelona’s recovery fell short in a 1-1 draw at the Parc des Princes.
A 4-1 defeat in the first leg meant Barca needed a miracle similar to the one they conjured four years ago at the Nou Camp when they overturned a 4-0 deficit against the same opponents at the same stage, but the LaLiga giants fell behind to Kylian Mbappe’s controversial penalty on the half hour.
Mbappe, 22 years and 80 days, thus became the youngest player to score 25 goals in Europe’s premier club competition, overtaking Messi, who made sure he was not upstaged even if Barca drew 1-1 to lose 5-2 on aggregate.
The Barca captain sensationally found the top corner in the 37th minute from distance to seemingly breathe fresh life into proceedings, but then saw his spot-kick saved by Keylor Navas on the stroke of half-time.
Navas, who made more than 150 appearances for Real Madrid, made several telling interventions to deny Barca another fairytale fightback as they bowed out before the quarter-finals for the first time in 14 seasons.
This season will be the first since 2005-06 without either Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in the quarter-finals.
Liverpool put their domestic crisis behind them as a 2-0 win over RB Leipzig eased them into the quarter-finals in Budapest.
This was Reds’ designated ‘home’ fixture but their woeful Anfield form – where they had lost six in a row in the league – meant they were probably grateful coronavirus restrictions forced them to play in Hungary again.
And having waited more than 11 hours for a goal from open play at home two came along within the space of five second-half minutes as Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane – scoring the 100th Champions League goal in manager Jurgen Klopp’s 44th match in charge – made the tie safe with a 4-0 aggregate victory.
The return of Fabinho, one of five changes from the defeat to Fulham, to central midfield for the first time since he was forced to permanently deputise at centre-back when Virgil Van Dijk’s season was ended by a knee injury in the Merseyside derby in mid-October proved to be pivotal.
It also meant a fit-again Ozan Kabak partnering Nat Phillips, on his European debut having been omitted from the squad for the group stage, in an eighth different central defensive combination in eight Champions League matches.
The effect on the team was a marked improvement with the Brazil international providing essential cover in front of the back four, allowing the centre-backs to concentrate on defending.