PSG open the ball on Wednesday in “Final 8”, the last phase of the Champions League without equal, by meeting Atalanta Bergamo. After succeeding in passing the accursed stage in the knockout stages, Neymar’s team hopes for this time, finally advancing in the competition.
For its 50th anniversary, Paris Saint-Germain has the opportunity to offer itself the best of gifts. Officially created on August 12, 1970, the main club played a quarter-final in the Champions League on Wednesday in Lisbon against the Italian side Atalanta Bergamo.
After finally succeeding in passing the eighth stage by winning against Dortmund in March last year, Thomas Tuchel’s men intend to continue their journey and reach the last four.
“It is a very important title, not only for the players but for the club. For the fans it would represent something incredible! I came to Paris for this adventure, for this goal”, summed up to ‘AFP’ iconic captain Thiago Silva, who should leave the club after this last competition.
But once again, the stars seem bitter. After weeks of confinement and an interrupted end of the season, the connections are damaged. The German coach, himself a victim of a sprained ankle, will have to do without AngelDi Maria, suspended, Marco Verratti, injured in the calf, and perhaps Kylian Mbappé, injured in the ankle, who, however, keeps hoping to appear on the replacement bench and do his entry during the match. “If he has a good training session on Tuesday night and if nothing happens on Wednesday, he is in the team,” Thomas Tuchel assured before the meeting.
Neymar finally at his best?
Due to the reduced format of the competition due to Covid-19 in this fighter match, the star of the Neymar team will finally have the chance to shine and lift PSG, who recruited him for the record sum of 222 million euros in 2017 on Europe’s roof.
Deprived of the final phase of the last two seasons due to injury, the most expensive player in history is finally entering the final phase of the Champions League in full possession of his funds. “These three years have enriched me a lot,” he explained on his website on August 4. I experienced moments of joy and complicated moments, especially when I could not play due to injuries. Help from my teammates I was able to overcome them. “
As proof, he was 28 years one of the great architects in the first quarter-final for PSG since 2016, with the goal of hope in the first stage against Dortmund (2-1 defeat) and opening points on return (2-0 victory). And the months of imprisonment he has spent in his luxury villa in Rio de Janeiro since the break in the competitions in March have not broken this momentum. During the two national cup finals at the end of July, where he especially scored his winning goal against Saint-Étienne (1-0), he was again the best.
“I have a feeling that he can become number 1 in the world, that he can win what the Ballon d’Orquandil wants,” said his national champion Thiago Silva, while the prestigious individual prize will not be awarded in 2020 due to Covid-19. “We give him all the balls because he is the one who will score goals, who will create situations. We try to do things for him on the pitch because we know that every second he can make us win the game.”
For Thomas Tuchel, Neymar will also be the decisive element in this quarter-final: “He likes the pressure. He likes the big decisive matches. He is super reliable and I am convinced that he will be the key guy for us. He has qualities and mentality for it. “
Bergamo, the surprise of the season
But to get there, the attack will not be enough. It will also be necessary to include the intense pressure of the Italians from Bergamo, the city martyred by the Covid-19 pandemic in Europe and the surprise of the season in Serie A. As Atalanta by Gian Piero Gasperini has emerged as one of the most dreaded “target machines” on the continent, with 98 goals scored in the Italian championship, which he finished in third place.
Like Paris, Bergamo will also have to go from two frames: goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini and especially striker Josip Ilicic, the author of 20 goals this season, including a memorable quadruple in the eighth final back to Valencia.
Without the most talented player in the squad, however, the Italian club has other important pieces to surprise against one of the tournament favorites. From creative captain “Papu” Gomez to powerful center-back Duvan Zapata, not to mention Ruslan Malinovskyi, Mario Pasalic and Luis Muriel, everyone dreams of shining around the world to pay tribute to the 17,000 victims of Covid-19 in Lombardy .
“We know the expectations that exist around this match, and all the passion, the love that the province of Bergamo has for Atalanta. This year there is an extra motivation, dictated by everything that has happened unfortunately. It is something we hold on to. But today “Everything is reduced to a football match”, Italian coach Gian Piero Gasperini summed up at a press conference.
“As a warrior”
In addition to the support from an entire region, Bergamo also has another great asset. “Atalanta have a big advantage over us, it’s the pace. We do not have enough pace, we only played two cup finals” due to the early end of Ligue 1, admitted the Parisian coach, Thomas Tuchel.
But a double-edged sword, as the Italian club arrive in Lisbon after a very close and trying end to the season, facing fresher Parisians: “We have prepared in the best conditions. We are ready with calm, that enthusiasm and courage. We will put all the necessary commitment “, was also declared with great confidence in a press conference defender Marquinhos. “We will make 90 minutes as warriors to go halfway.”
Due to the special nature of this season, the dreams of quarterbacks have never been so lively, especially among the “little ones”. Rarely have six of eight quarter-finalists ever been crowned in the competition.
The condensed formula in Final 8 offers a very short way to the cup: three victories to win it, it is a unique opportunity to take advantage, although the debate remains about the value of this trophy, at a discount for some. Without spectators, and framed by a strict health protocol, the latest C1 matches, until the final on August 23, will not have the usual taste of the European Cup.