Neymar helps lead PSG past Leipzig and into first ever Champions League final

LISBON (AFP) – Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) are through to the final of the Champions League for the first time after goals by Marquinhos, Angel Di Maria and Juan Bernat saw them ease to a 3-0 win over RB Leipzig in a one-sided semi-final in Lisbon on Tuesday.

It was 2-0 at half-time, with the first two goals set up by Neymar, the Brazilian again outstanding at the Estadio da Luz, just as he had been in last week’s quarter-final against Atalanta.

Bernat’s goal came in the 55th minute and snuffed out any hopes Leipzig had of a comeback. They could not handle the world’s most expensive player, or the many other outstanding performers in the PSG side, who no longer appear overcome by the sense of occasion that surrounds a Champions League knockout tie.

After seeming to invent ever more absurd ways to lose in Europe in recent years – the 6-1 loss against Barcelona in 2017 and last year’s defeat by Manchester United in the last 16 stand out – despite all the investment by the club’s Qatari owners, here they lived up to their billing.

“We wanted to make history and we did it,” Di Maria told French broadcaster RMC Sport. “If we continue the way we played today, that could help us in the final.”

Bayern Munich and Lyon met in the second semi-final yesterday for the right to face PSG in Sunday’s final. Thomas Tuchel’s team are the competition’s first French finalists since Monaco in 2004.

Paris Saint-Germain’s Brazilian forward Neymar kick the ball after Paris Saint-Germain’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat scored their team’s third goal. PHOTO: AFP

Nine years after Qatar Sports Investments bought a moribund mid-table Ligue 1 team and began turning them into the untouchable force in France, they are now one game away from winning the trophy that really matters to them.

“It is a dream but I hope the dream doesn’t end here tonight,” said PSG’s Qatari president, Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

There is little doubt that the context in Lisbon is helping. PSG have only needed to perform for 90 minutes instead of over two legs in the latter stages of this season’s tournament, so badly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

They also need not feel the pressure of having to perform in front of their expectant support – glimpse the other way inside Benfica’s cavernous stadium and you really could forget there was a football match being played.

Then again, in many ways it was not much of a match.

A first ever European semi-final was a step too far for Julian Nagelsmann’s young team, which featured seven outfield players aged between 21 and 24 in the starting line-up and this time could not compensate for the loss of star striker Timo Werner, sold to Chelsea before the ‘Final Eight’ began.

“They were better than us and we have to accept that,” said Nagelsmann.

PSG had seen Neymar hit the post before they went ahead in the 13th minute.

Neymar won a free-kick just outside the box to the left. Di Maria’s wicked delivery was headed home by Marquinhos.

The Brazilian defender, reinvented as a holding midfielder by Tuchel, does not score many but he had already saved PSG against Atalanta with his last-minute equaliser.

Di Maria was making his comeback after suspension. Kylian Mbappe was also fit enough to start for the first time after his recent ankle injury.

Mauro Icardi made way as that duo joined Neymar in a three-man attack. At the other end, Sergio Rico was rarely troubled standing in for injured goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

Neymar nearly scored with an audacious attempt from a free-kick, almost catching out Peter Gulacsi when he hit the post from way out on the right flank as everyone expected a cross.

But Gulacsi gifted the French champions their second just before the break. His poor pass out fell to Leandro Paredes, and he returned it into the box and on to Di Maria via an outrageous Neymar flick. Di Maria controlled and slotted home.

It was game over within 10 minutes of the second half starting.

Leipzig thought Nordi Mukiele was fouled in the right-back position but the Dutch referee decided he had merely slipped. As play continued, Di Maria crossed for Bernat to head in. Tuchel, perched on a cool box in his technical area, pumped his fist in celebration.

PSG are now hoping to become just the second French winner of the trophy, 27 years after Marseille won the inaugural Champions League.