Thursday 25 April 2019

Rashford seals Reds' VAR raid

United stun PSG with last-gasp winner to complete historic fightback

Marcus Rashford coverts the injurytime penalty in Paris last night. Photo: Reuters
Marcus Rashford coverts the injurytime penalty in Paris last night. Photo: Reuters

Jason Burt

They say the video assistant referee is killing the drama in football. Not here. No way. This was the most incredible, astonishing finish as Manchester United were awarded a controversial 90th-minute penalty to knock Paris Saint-Germain out of the Champions League.

Marcus Rashford took it, driving the ball high into the net, and the United bench exploded. It felt just like 1999, it really did. PSG were stunned. The world was stunned.

There were then four minutes of added time. It felt like an eternity, PSG reacting with fury after the award, which seemed harsh. Sure, Presnel Kimpembe blocked Diogo Dalot's shot, which hit his elbow, but he had turned his back. Even so, after consulting with the VAR on the side of the pitch, referee Damir Skomina gave the penalty.

No fewer than 34 times has a team unsuccessfully previously tried to overcome a 2-0 deficit from the home first leg of a Champions League tie.

There will not be a 35th. That United, severely depleted, without 10 players, did this is extraordinary and a glowing testimony to the spirit that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has brought to them.

Bloody-minded

This was about courage and heart and believing that, as Solskjaer said, there is never a mission impossible. This was heroic. It was about resolve and determination. And sheer, bloody-minded guts.

It has been already said - not least by himself - that Solskjaer is bringing something of the old United back and this was further compelling evidence delivered by him. The players sprinted to the 2,000 United fans at the final whistle as every PSG player slumped on the turf.

It was a remarkable first half. United were dominated, with the statistics at one point showing they had just 13 per cent of possession and had completed only 25 passes. PSG had racked up 256.

There was also the exposure of Eric Bailly at right-back, where he seemed lost, constantly drawn infield, leaving space outside him which was exploited. Until, after 36 minutes, Solskjaer rectified his glaring mistake by taking Bailly off and bringing Diogo Dalot on in his 4-4-2 formation.

Bailly was limping but the injury appeared to be wounded pride. He had a bad night. But, by then, United had scored twice. In between PSG had taken them apart but both United goals were gifts, gleefully snapped up by a resurgent Romelu Lukaku, with the second changing the dynamic.

Soon after, Rashford ran onto an Ashley Young free-kick and shot wide and Dalot tricked his way into the penalty area and tried to cross when he had to shoot. Even then Gianluigi Buffon did well to hold on to the ball as Marquinhos diverted it goalwards. That would have given United the third goal they needed even before the half-time whistle was blown.

Both coaches had stressed the importance to score the first goal and to hopefully score it early - and, gloriously, it was United who claimed it.

Not so glorious, though, for PSG or for Thilo Kehrer, who, under pressure, tried to play the ball back to captain Thiago Silva without looking. It was overhit to Lukaku, who sprinted clear and appeared to overrun the chance as he skirted Buffon but managed to stretch and find the net. Game on.

PSG had tried to take control but had been undone - by themselves, with United handed a route back into the tie. The French champions soon applied the pressure. Kylian Mbappe twice went close to pulling them level, with United dropping ever deeper until the 20-year-old's movement undid them.

He peeled away to run onto Dani Alves's pass and whipped a low ball across the United six-yard area for Juan Bernat to run in and turn past David De Gea beyond the far post.

Bailly was nowhere to be seen and was at fault again when he allowed himself to drift infield, showing again he is a central defender, leaving Bernat unmarked. The full-back was picked out by Angel Di Maria and drove a powerful shot that De Gea did well to beat away. Kehrer, PSG's right-back, was not faring much better than Bailly and he slipped to allow Rashford shoot past Buffon's post when, maybe, he should have crossed.

It encouraged United and they attacked again, with Rashford firing the ball in from 25 yards. It seemed routine for Buffon, except it bounced in front of him and rebounded off his chest for Lukaku to run in and tuck home. Improbably, United had restored their lead.

Astonishing

Given the absentees, the roll call of players Solskjaer was denied - including his first-choice midfield - it was astonishing that they went into the second half ahead and needing a single, unanswered goal to go through. It was all to play for and that is all he could have asked for.

It was also the first time PSG had conceded two goals at home in the opening 45 minutes of a Champions League match since 1997 and they began to build their dominance again. Di Maria dinked the ball into the net after running onto a superb reverse pass by Mbappe but was rightly pulled up for offside, with the only respite for United coming when Lukaku went down injured. Solskjaer used the time to deliver instructions, scribbled on a piece of paper to Young, his captain, and Rashford.

The rain was unrelenting and so were PSG, while Scott McTominay - whose commitment was unending - and Marquinhos clashed by the touchline. The free-kick count increased; another sign that United were being stretched and stretched again. But would they break? They also needed another goal but were holding on, trying to counter.

Instead Mbappe broke through, running onto Di Maria's pass, only to stumble, with Chris Smalling poking the ball away. It fell to Bernat, who slammed it against the base of the post from a tight angle. United scored through their penalty and then PSG, in desperation, poured forward with De Gea saving and then demands for their own penalty. They were waved away and United are through to the last eight.

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