Football, the most beloved sport around the world, owes much of its popularity to its unpredictability and its ability to surprise its viewers. Today, we begin a series that will recount historic comebacks, aiming to demonstrate intrinsically that no game is truly lost or won. After all, it’s not a matter of mathematics but rather the interplay of various factors and individuals that make it something unique.
The first comeback we’ll delve into is none other than Barcelona’s magnificent turnaround against PSG in the Round of 16 of the 16/17 Champions League season.
Barcelona and PSG Pre-Match Predictions Before the Round of 16
The Blaugranas suffered greatly from their elimination in the quarter-finals of the Champions League against Atlético Madrid in the 2015/16 season. After all, their main goal was to lift the trophy for the second consecutive time. Hence, the impact of the elimination was strong. However, they rebounded and managed to clinch La Liga and the Copa del Rey.
Barcelona was in great form heading into the knockout stage of the Champions League. They were an extremely technical and competitive team, boasting the infamous MSN trio (Messi, Suárez, and Neymar) in top form, along with the composure and experience of a midfield consisting of Busquets and Iniesta. While they felt the loss of Daniel Alves, Sergi Roberto managed to fill the role admirably and played a crucial role in the comeback against the Parisian club.
In the group stage, Barcelona faced Manchester City, Celtic, and Borussia Mönchengladbach, amassing 15 points with 5 wins and only one loss, comfortably securing first place. The Blaugrana even delivered masterful performances in the group stage, such as the 7-0 victory against Celtic, a 4-0 win over Manchester City, and a 4-0 triumph over Borussia, all of these thrashings taking place at the majestic Camp Nou, showcasing the team’s strength when playing in front of their passionate supporters.
Meanwhile, Paris Saint-Germain also had an excellent 2015/16 season, comfortably winning Ligue 1, the French Cup, and the League Cup. However, they were eliminated in the quarter-finals of the Champions League by Manchester City. At the end of the season, they bid farewell to their great idol, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but within the club, they already had a natural successor in the Uruguayan, Edinson Cavani.
In the group stage, the Parisian club faced Arsenal, Ludogorets, and Basel, securing 12 points with 3 wins and 3 draws, advancing to the Round of 16 unbeaten. The PSG had a cohesive team from defense to attack, featuring star players like Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Verratti, Di María, and the sharpshooter Edinson Cavani, who seemed unfazed by the pressure of replacing Zlatan.
When the draw was made and it was decided that the two clubs would face each other in the Round of 16, the footballing world, especially the fans, went wild. After all, these were two high-profile teams with outstanding players. The Football Gods did not disappoint, and this Round of 16 clash was undoubtedly the biggest ever witnessed in this stage of the Champions League, living up to the expectations of football lovers around the world.
First Leg PSG 4×0 Barcelona
The Parc des Princes was packed, with nearly 50,000 fans in red and blue urging PSG towards victory. The game started at a frantic pace, with Barcelona trying to maintain possession, but the French team was well-organized and eager to regain the ball at any cost, especially with three tenacious midfielders in Verratti, Matuidi, and Rabiot. When they won the ball, PSG often exploited the wings, especially the right, where the magician Di María was positioned. Early in the game, Di María delivered a beautiful cross to Cavani, who found himself alone at the edge of the box but couldn’t finish accurately.
PSG continued to hold their ground and found spaces left by the Spanish team. In one such instance, the German Draxler played a fantastic pass to Matuidi between the Catalan defenders. The French midfielder entered the box and struck a left-footed rocket, which Ter Stegen brilliantly saved. The ball then fell to Rabiot, who attempted a weaker shot that the German goalkeeper easily handled. Barcelona seemed unable to mount a response and resorted to fouling PSG players to disrupt their rhythm.
At the 18th minute of the first half, Di María carefully positioned the ball at the entrance of the box on the right, took a short run-up, and unleashed a magisterial shot into the top corner, making it 1-0 for the Parisians. The Parc des Princes erupted with joy, and the Rouge-et-Bleu gained even more confidence on the field.
Barcelona, in turn, tried to react and be more aggressive. In a promising move through the middle, Neymar dribbled past defenders and delivered a beautiful pass to André Gomes, who entered the box from the right and struck a low shot that Trapp saved brilliantly. However, it was clear that the game was in favor of the French side. Draxler, on the left, skillfully maneuvered around Sergi Roberto, leaving the Spanish full-back behind, and took a shot that Ter Stegen once again thwarted with a great save.
The first half was approaching its conclusion when, at the 40th minute, Verratti stole the ball in midfield and quickly exchanged passes with Draxler. Draxler then attacked the space behind Jordi Alba, receiving a beautiful pass from the Italian midfielder in the box. The German controlled the ball and skillfully shot to beat Ter Stegen, making it 2-0 for PSG. The first half ended with a magnificent display by the French and a below-average performance from the Catalans.
The second half began more scrappy, with numerous battles in midfield. However, at the 10th minute, Kurzawa ventured from the left and dribbled through the middle. The French full-back found Di María on the right, who dribbled towards the center. No Barcelona player challenged him, and seizing the opportunity, the Argentine unleashed a beautiful strike from outside the box, leaving Ter Stegen with no chance. Another fantastic goal by the skillful Argentine winger made it 3-0 for PSG.
Barcelona appeared to be knocked out, but they began to pass the ball more effectively and control possession, seemingly with the mindset that they couldn’t afford to concede another goal. However, the worst was yet to come.
At the 27th minute of the second half, Meunier stole the ball on the right side of PSG’s defense and sprinted towards the attack. No Barcelona player came to intercept him, so the Belgian full-back delivered a good pass to Cavani, who entered the box and fired a rocket to seal PSG’s emphatic 4-0 victory in a fantastic game by the French team.
Second Leg Barcelona 6×1 PSG
The days leading up to the second leg were filled with extreme nervousness for the Culés, while PSG fans were more relaxed. However, both knew that the advantage gained in Paris was great but not insurmountable, especially when facing a Barcelona side featuring Neymar, Messi, Suárez, Iniesta, and Busquets.
It was well understood that if Barcelona played as they did in France, they risked another PSG thrashing. Therefore, the concentration and preparation of the Catalan team were unparalleled. The players and the fans knew that a comeback was possible. On the other hand, the mentality of the French side was to hold on to the lead. However, for the second leg, they were without their main player, as Di María was not 100% fit.
The Blaugranas started the game with determination, needing to score as early as possible and not allow PSG to score a single goal. Things seemed to be going well when, just three minutes into the game, Rafinha received a pass from Mascherano on the left wing.
The Brazilian cut inside onto his left foot and crossed the ball into the box. Marquinhos attempted to clear with a header but unusually missed, and the ball deflected between Messi and Matuidi. Suárez reacted quickly, heading the ball before goalkeeper Trapp arrived. The ball trickled slowly toward the goal, and although Meunier managed to clear it, it had already crossed the line. It was 1-0 for Barcelona, the start everyone except the Parisians wanted.
Barcelona continued to try to maintain their rhythm, but PSG marked tightly, especially against the Blaugrana’s infiltrations. Consequently, long-distance shots seemed to be the way forward. Messi took a beautiful central free-kick that narrowly missed the target. A few minutes later, Neymar made a splendid move from the left, cutting inside and unleashing a fierce shot to the opposite corner, leaving Trapp beaten, but the ball grazed the post.
At the 40th minute, Neymar found Iniesta in the middle, and a good combination with Suárez resulted in Iniesta gaining an edge over Marquinhos. The ball seemed destined to go out for a goal kick, but in a moment of brilliance from one of the greatest midfielders in the history of the sport, Iniesta prevented it with a back-heeled touch directed toward the box. The ball then headed toward the full-back Kurzawa, who tried to clear it but miscalculated the kick. The ball hit his shin and went into the net, leaving German goalkeeper Trapp with no chance. It was 2-0 for Barcelona, needing two more goals to force extra time. Luck seemed to be on Barcelona’s side.
The second half began, and at the 5th minute, Iniesta delivered a brilliant through ball to Neymar. The skillful Brazilian entered the box along the goal line, but Meunier tripped him, causing him to fall. Initially, the referee did not react, but after consultation with the assistant referee, he awarded a penalty. Messi, who had not been having a great game until then, stepped up, gently placed the ball, and struck it firmly into the right corner of Trapp’s net. It was 3-0 for Barcelona.
PSG realized that things were getting complicated and started to push forward. After a good move by Meunier on the right, the Belgian dribbled Neymar with a chip and sent a low cross to Cavani, who, with a kind of sliding effort, beat the defender and shot against the post with great force.
After the third goal, Barcelona appeared to lose some of their momentum, and at the 17th minute, PSG took advantage of it. Following an unsuspecting free-kick from their own half, the ball reached Kurzawa, almost going out for a goal kick. The Frenchman nodded it with his head to Cavani, who was in the middle of the box. The Uruguayan received the ball and struck it with force, finding the back of Ter Stegen’s net. It was 3-1 for Barcelona, who now needed to score three more goals.
Barcelona instantly felt the blow, and moments later, PSG almost scored their second after a beautiful through ball from Draxler to Cavani. The Uruguayan striker finished from inside the box with finesse, but Ter Stegen stretched his legs and produced a miraculous save that kept Barcelona alive. After the scare, the Catalans seemed to wake up and pressed forward. Messi received the ball on the left, dribbled into the box, set up the shot with his left foot but mishit it. Clearly, it wasn’t Messi’s night.
Time was passing, and it seemed that Barcelona wouldn’t manage the three remaining goals. However, the genius and determination of one of the greatest and most skillful wingers in the history of football came into play—Neymar Jr. tried everything. He appeared to be the only Barcelona player unwilling to leave Camp Nou without progressing to the quarter-finals.
At the 43rd minute of the second half, Barcelona had a free-kick on the left side of the box. The Brazilian superstar took charge and unleashed an extraordinary shot into the top right corner of Trapp’s net, leaving the goalkeeper with no chance. With the goal and his attitude, Neymar seemed to inspire his teammates, who started to believe in the comeback once more. Then, at the 46th minute, Messi delivered an excellent pass to Suárez.
The Uruguayan striker went to control the ball but felt contact from Marquinhos and fell. The referee awarded a penalty, which was, to be fair, highly controversial. Neymar stepped up, took the ball, caressed it with unique intimacy, and executed it in his characteristic style—with a slight pause in the middle of his run-up. He reached the ball, sent Trapp the wrong way, and put the ball in the back of the net. It was 5-1 for Barcelona, with just one more goal needed, but time was running out.
Neymar had the ball at every opportunity, and all of Barcelona’s players threw themselves into the attack. At the 50th minute of the second half, Neymar had a free-kick to take. Ter Stegen also ventured forward into the box. Neymar took the free-kick, but the PSG defense cleared it. The ball returned to the Brazilian, who dribbled it toward the center and launched it into the box.
The ball passed through both Barcelona and PSG players until it landed in the area. Sergi Roberto then outmuscled the defender and extended his right foot to touch the ball, defeating goalkeeper Trapp. It was a goal—the goal of the impossible, the goal of the improbable. Camp Nou erupted in celebration, and the game ended with Barcelona advancing in one of the greatest comebacks in the history of football.
A curious fact about this day was that the euphoria of the Culés in the stadium was so intense that the celebration of the 6th goal caused a minor seismic activity in the area, registering at approximately 1.4 on the Richter scale. This demonstrated that in football, there truly are no impossibilities.
And you, the reader, do you remember these two great matches?
Written by João Felipe Miller