A month ago, I wrote about how comebacks were fun, among other things, in my recap of the Patriots’ still-not-entirely-comprehensible victory in Super Bowl LI. The only problem with that comeback–and comebacks of that magnitude in general–is that it was brutal watching my Patriots fall into that horrible, 28-3 deficit to begin with. Oh, you can’t even imagine the suffering fellow Check Down writer Alby and I went through in that South London bar–the torment from jealous New Yorkers, the snickering from anti-Trump fanatics, the inevitable questions about what this blowout loss might mean for New England’s legacy. The horror! The horror!
Barcelona fans know a similar feeling. After a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 in mid-February, Barcelona’s European reign had come to an end. At least, it appeared that way. After all, no team had ever lost by four goals in the first leg of any round in the Champions League and advanced. Plus, even Barcelona’s own manager, Luis Enrique, said his teams chances were slim heading into the second leg. That only provided more ammunition for those declaring that Lionel Messi, Neymar, and company’s days of dominance were over.
Let’s face it, they’re not good anymore!
Encouraging news for Trent Dilfer because he is now joined by hundreds, if not thousands, of European pundits who wrongly declared the end of another dynasty. If you missed it yesterday, Barcelona accomplished what was thought to be impossible and beat PSG 6-1 to advance to the quarterfinals of the UCL 6-5 on aggregate goals. No sense in me telling you what happened. Best to watch for yourself.
Here’s the remarkable part about Barcelona’s comeback. After jumping to a 3-0 lead early in the second half, a fourth goal would’ve pulled Barcelona even with PSG on aggregate goals. If the score had stood at 4-0, for the sake of argument, the game would’ve went to extra time. But here’s where it got interesting. The tiebreaker in the Champions League knockout stage is away goals. So after Edinson Cavani scored in the 61st minute to make it 3-1, PSG now owned the tiebreaker thanks to their shutout victory over Barcelona in Paris back in February. Now Barca needed three more goals, since a 5-5 aggregate final would’ve sent PSG through.
At the 62′ minute mark, this seemed possible. At the 87′ minute mark, though, when the aggregate score was still 5-3, the game was over. And it’s this reality–the fact that Barcelona needed three goals in the final, say, eight minutes (counting for extra time)–that makes their comeback, and PSG’s collapse, even more remarkable than New England’s comeback over Atlanta in last month’s Super Bowl. Super Bowl LI will undoubtedly go down as the more legendary game because, after all, it was a championship event while yesterday was only a Round of 16 match. But in terms of difficulty, I’m giving the slight edge to Barcelona for a) coming back from a 4-0 loss in the first leg, which was something that had not been done before under any circumstance in the Champions League and b) scoring three goals with little time to spare in order to secure the win.
Moreover, when comparing PSG to the Falcons, at least Atlanta can “only” look back on two sequences where they dramatically dropped the ball; the first being Dont’a Hightower’s strip-sack of Matt Ryan, which dramatically altered the field-position battle, and the second being the Falcons’ play-selection while in field goal range up 28-20. PSG, on the other hand….I don’t even know where to begin. Forget about blowing a three goal lead with only a few minutes left. Two of Barcelona’s goals came off foolish fouls that led to penalty kicks. Another two were helped in by deflections from PSG defenders. The only really legitimate goals were scored by Neymar on his ridiculous free kick and then Sergi Roberto on his epic game-winner. Plus, did you see how many chances PSG had to increase their lead beforehand? Sure, they got unlucky when they hit the post on an attempt earlier in the second half. But then they had two breakaways! And they couldn’t convert! Angel di Maria, in particular, has to be kicking himself for not even putting his opportunity on target in the 84th minute.
Seeing Barcelona’s fans go wild after Roberto’s goal aroused similar memories from the great comebacks I’ve experienced as a Boston sports fan, namely this past year’s Super Bowl as well as the Bruins’ Game 7 win over the Maple Leafs in 2013 and Super Bowl XLIX. Perhaps the best feeling, though, is not the immediate sensation, but the vindication that comes with miraculously proving everyone who wrote your team off wrong. That’s why Barcelona fans should be forever grateful for the Trent Dilfer’s of the world when they tell their kids how they experienced one of the greatest comebacks in sports history; and the story will be even more memorable if Barcelona’s already legendary run culminates in another Champions League title.