The Citizen (KZN)

Big Catalonia dreams

GUN FOR RETURN TO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE ELITE AGAINST PSG

- Barcelona

Barcelona host Paris Saint-Germain tonight hoping their young stars can help them vanquish the ghosts of the past and return the fivetime winners to the Champions League elite.

The Catalans’ dramatic 3-2 quarterfin­al first leg victory in Paris is arguably their finest result away from home in the competitio­n in the last decade, sparking big dreams in Catalonia.

“I understand the euphoria – it’s better to live with euphoria than with pessimism,” said Barca coach Xavi Hernandez on Saturday.

Xavi’s side which snatched victory at the Parc des Princes featured the two youngest players ever to play in the final eight of the Champions League, in 16-yearold Lamine Yamal, and Pau Cubarsi, 17.

That fresh blood has brought new life to a team not only struggling this season but which has been weighed down mentally by failure stacked on failure since they last triumphed in Europe in 2015.

The Catalans lifted the trophy in Berlin with current PSG coach Luis Enrique at the helm, propelled by the magical strike force of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.

The years since have been a collection of dramatic collapses on the biggest stages on the continent and, worse still, ignominiou­s defeats in earlier rounds.

Yamal and Cubarsi are untainted by the psychologi­cal damage of those defeats and Xavi has praised their mentality.

“(Yamal) is very calm and very mature, so measured in the sense that he bears everything so well that’s happening to him, despite his young age,” said Xavi in March.

After Cubarsi shone to help Barcelona progress from the last-16 against Napoli, Xavi offered similar praise.

“He has a very well furnished brain,” said the coach.

Cubarsi’s cool was just what Barcelona lacked when they threw away a 4-1 first leg lead to crash out in 2018 at Roma in the quarterfin­als, pounded 3-0 at the Olympic Stadium in the Italian capital.

The following season they collapsed at an ecstatic Anfield, unable to protect a 3-0 advantage earned at the Camp Nou.

The remarkable 4-0 second leg defeat sent shock waves reverberat­ing around the club and led to coach Ernesto Valverde’s eventual sacking a few months later.

The final nail in the coffin for the majority of the players remaining from Barcelona’s golden era was an 8-2 hammering by Bayern Munich in the 2020 quarters.

Many of Barcelona’s veteran stars seemed scarred by their European collapses and before long Messi, Suarez, Jordi Alba,

Gerard Pique and company were gone.

Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen is one of two survivors from the triumphant 2015 team, along with Sergi Roberto, who famously scored the decisive sixth goal in Barca’s 6-1 “remontada” – comeback – against PSG in 2017.

“We have to put the ghosts aside,” said the goalkeeper in October after Barca won a hardfought group game at Porto.

By winning La Liga last season Barca showed they were improving and now what remains is finishing the job they started in Paris to make that progress evident in Europe too.

 ?? ?? PAU CUBARSI Picture: Getty Images
PAU CUBARSI Picture: Getty Images

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