Neymar nets 2 as Barca beats PSG 2-0 to reach CL semifinals
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Neymar scored two goals as Barcelona beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-0 on Tuesday to seal its return to the Champions League semifinals, joining Europe’s elite four teams for the seventh time in eight seasons.
Neymar had already netted Barcelona’s first goal in its 3-1 first-leg win, and the Brazil striker struck in the 14th and 34th minutes to crush PSG’s already slim hopes of a quarterfinal comeback.
Barcelona’s dominance was so complete that, despite Neymar’s brace, Andres Iniesta was arguably the best player on the Camp Nou pitch. The veteran midfielder used a breathtaking solo run through the heart of the visitors’ defense to set up Neymar for the opener.
The Brazilian then took advantage of PSG’s lax marking to head home his second goal from Dani Alves’ cross.
“Iniesta, in the first goal, he did it all. I only had to dribble the goalkeeper,” Neymar said. “We are playing at our best both in the Champions League and the Spanish league. We have to keep it up.”
Neymar’s double gave him 30 goals for the season as the 23-year-old star continues to flourish. He forms a deadly three-prong attack with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, who have taken Barcelona one step closer to adding to its four European Cups and have kept the club in contention for the Spanish league and Copa del Rey titles.
“We had a great start to the game, it was decisive,” said Luis Enrique, who became the Catalan club’s most successful coach through his first 50 matches with 42 wins.
“I don’t want to look too far ahead, but I hope the best is yet to come. That’s what my players have been playing for this season, to be in the position to win titles.”
Also on Tuesday, Bayern Munich routed FC Porto 6-1 to overcome a 3-1 away defeat and advance 7-4 on aggregate.
Despite needing to score three goals, PSG seemed more worried about keeping a clean sheet and sat back instead of pressing Barcelona in its own half, a strategy that almost paid dividends for Valencia over the weekend.
If defending first was coach Laurent Blanc’s strategy, it quickly fell apart when Iniesta single-handedly undid the French champions with an elegant dribbling run that started in his own half.
Iniesta has had a subdued season in his new role as the team’s orchestrator — with Xavi Hernandez now only a substitute. But he proved that he is still one of the most creative playmakers in the game when he neatly spun by one defender and coasted through the tackles of two more. He then capped his run by threading a perfect pass beyond two more backtracking PSG players for Neymar to round goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu before tapping in Barcelona’s first goal.
“Is Iniesta back? I hadn’t gone anywhere. I always try to play well, regardless of the formation we are playing with,” Iniesta said. “I’m very happy with how we played today and how we finished the tie.”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic made little impact on his return from suspension for PSG because he rarely got the ball. The Swedish striker was often a spectator while attack partners Edinson Cavani and Javier Pastore chased after a ball that was moved with bewitching ease by Iniesta, Messi, and Ivan Rakitic.
Despite all its artistry, Barcelona’s second goal came easily enough when Dani Alves picked out Neymar darting between David Luiz and Marquinhos to score with a header.
“I had hoped we would play a better game, but our opponent didn’t let us. Just like they didn’t in the first game,” Blanc said. “Defensively, we weren’t up the challenge in either game, and we didn’t have the scoring punch in attack.”
Marco Verratti squandered PSG’s first decent chance that came an hour into the match when he sent his shot well wide, and it wasn’t until the 73rd when Ibrahimovic forced goalie Marc-Andre Ter Stegen to make a save.
On Wednesday, Real Madrid hosts Atletico Madrid with their tie poised 0-0, while Juventus looks to make good on its 1-0 first-leg win at Monaco.