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PSG back to domestic duties after Champions League glory

March 12, 2015

PARIS (AP) — The accolades have been pouring in for Paris Saint-Germain after its dramatic qualification for the quarterfinals of the Champions League. Playing with 10 mean after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s sending off, coach Laurent Blanc’s team twice rallied to draw 2-2 at Chelsea to go through on away goals.

“Heroiques (Heroic)” sports daily L’Equipe wrote in big letters on its front page, along with a picture of goal scorer Thiago Silva. L’Equipe’s website carried the scathing back pages of the English newspapers’ inquest into the Chelsea defeat.

PSG remains on course for an unprecedented quadruple, but it still trails Lyon in the French league by one point and has a far more difficult schedule ahead.

Lyon is not involved in any cup competitions and only has the 10 remaining league games to focus on. Both have tough away trips this weekend: PSG is at sixth-place Bordeaux and Lyon goes to title-rival Marseille.

Here are some things to know about this weekend’s games:

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DECISIVE LUIZ

PSG coach Laurent Blanc’s decision to take David Luiz out of central defense and play him in midfield has paid dividends.

Doubts were raised when PSG paid 50 million euros ($53 million) during the offseason to buy Luiz from Chelsea, but Blanc insisted it was money well spent because of the Brazilian’s versatility.

How Luiz has proved him right.

His goal against Chelsea in the Champions League on Wednesday night was his third in successive games. It played a crucial part in helping PSG draw 2-2 to reach the quarterfinals.

Last weekend, his long-range free kick opened the scoring against a resilient Lens side late in the first half, before PSG went on to win 4-1, and in his previous match he led the way with the opener as PSG beat Monaco 2-0 in the French Cup quarterfinals.

The long hug between Luiz and Blanc at the end of Wednesday’s game showed that a special bond is forming between them.

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BIG AMBITIONS

PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi is dreaming of big things.

When the Qatari owner took charge in 2011, his ambition was to build PSG into one of Europe’s biggest clubs. Carlo Ancelotti had a brief spell as coach before leaving for Real Madrid and now Laurent Blanc is looking to lead PSG to a third straight league title.

Although there is some way still to go, a third straight qualification for the Champions League quarterfinals shows that PSG is blossoming into a consistent European side.

Knocking out Chelsea after playing with 10 men for most of the game sent out a signal to the other teams in the competition that PSG will be hard to beat.

“I looked the players in the eyes before the game and told them that we could do it,” Al-Khelaifi said. “Since we bought the club we’ve believed in our European ambition. After beating a team like Chelsea I think we can go far this year.”

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CAVANI’S COMEBACK

Heavily criticized for most of the season by the French media, striker Edinson Cavani is now becoming one of PSG’s key players as the season enters its crucial phase.

Cavani’s 64 million euro ($68 million) price tag has seemed like a huge weight since he joined from Napoli last season. Fans expected more, much more, from the pacy forward, whose swashbuckling, rampaging style made him such a favorite in southern Italy.

But with Zlatan Ibrahimovic stealing the spotlight in his inimitable way, it has been hard for Cavani to make an impression — until now.

Rather than try and match Ibrahimovic he has found a different way to impress fans and teammates alike: hard work and self-sacrifice.

“People see that I fight for others and, yes, that is pleasing for me,” he said. “It’s part of personality. It’s true that I like to score but sometimes you also need to know how to fight for others.”

Still, he remains PSG’s top scorer with 18 goals in all competitions, compared to 16 for Ibrahimovic.

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RISING STAR

For the past two seasons, Zlatan Ibrahimovic grabbed most of the headlines in the French league. This season has been all about 21-year-old Lyon forward Nabil Fekir.

Fekir’s outstanding skill, touch, balance and finishing have caught the eye on several occasions, none more so than last Sunday when he scored two expertly-taken goals in Lyon’s 5-1 thrashing of Montpellier.

He has 11 league goals in 24 this season — one less than Ibrahimovic, who takes penalties while Fekir does not — and his seven assists is the second highest in the league behind Marseille’s Dimitri Payet.

He has also been caught in an emotional tug-of-war in choosing whether to represent France or Algeria — his father’s homeland — at international level.

After initially choosing Algeria, he then changed his mind and committed himself to France. He is likely to be called up by coach Didier Deschamps next week for a friendly against Brazil later this month.

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FOOTBALL MOURNS

A minute’s silence will held at every ground in France this weekend, including games at regional and departmental level, as a tribute to the three athletes who died in a helicopter crash this week.

Olympic champion swimmer Camille Muffat, Olympic bronze-medalist boxer Alexis Vastine and pioneering sailor Florence Arthaud were among 10 people who died as two helicopters filming a reality show crashed in a remote part of Argentina on Monday.

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