LISBON: Last-minute dramatics, with emotions swinging from despair to euphoria, lit up the first of the Champions League quarter-finals as Paris Saint-Germain finally reached the last four with a 2-1 triumph over the Italian outsiders of Atalanta.
PSG reached the semi-finals for the first time in 25 years as late, late goals from Marquinhos and substitute Eric Choupo-Moting wiped out the first-half advantage delivered for tournament new boys Atalanta midway through the first half.
Those goals rescued superstar team-mate Neymar from a scapegoating after he had wasted two gilt-edged openings in the opening and closing minutes of the first half.
PSG should have been ahead with less than three minutes gone when, seconds after Alejandro Gomez had forced a save from Keylor Navas, Neymar ran clear of a flat-footed Atalanta defence from halfway to go one-on-one with keeper Marco Sportiello, only to stab his shot horribly wide.
Navas was called upon again to claw away wing-back Hans Hateboer’s 11th-minute header with the Italians giving as good as they forged a path back into the game.
Neymar continued to look the man most likely to hurt Atalanta as the Ligue 1 side struggled for fluency but it was Gian Piero Gasperini’s men who took a 26th-minute lead when Mario Pasalic swept a counter-attacking shot beyond Navas.
Next Neymar came within inches of a swift equaliser when, after cheekily pushing the ball through Pasalic’s legs, he made space for himself before firing wide from the edge of the penalty area.
The Brazilian’s touch in front of goal continued to elude him as Sportiello comfortably fielded his curling 35th-minute free-kick before the Brazilian sliced badly wide again as the half-time whistle approached.
PSG upped the tempo on their return to stretch their opponents, who picked up a rash of yellow cards as they worked to hold out, with Marten De Roon’s piledriver, which flew wide from distance, and Berat Djimsiti’s snapshot rare moments of relief.
Kylian Mbappe’s arrival as a substitute on the hour gave PSG renewed impetus. He forced a vital 74th-minute save from Sportiello after being played in down the left by fellow newcomer Leandro Paredes before being denied by Jose Palomino’s timely block.
Eventually Marquinhos forced home a 90th-minute equaliser with the help of a touch from Mattia Caldara’s boot to set the stage for a grandstand finish.
The clock had ticked into the third of five minutes of stoppage time when Neymar and Mbappe combined superbly to allow Choupo-Moting to fire home the winner and deal Atalanta the cruellest of blows.
Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said: “A great disappointment. It seemed we could do it and it would have been a great achievement but when you play against some of the strongest players in the world on a technical and athletic level it becomes tough. Mbappe’s impact was decisive.”