Di Maria fires brace as PSG stun Barcelona 4-0

Paris, Feb 15 (IANS) Argentine winger Angel Di Maria scored a brace as Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) put up a superb display to drub Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg of a Champions League pre-quarterfinal here.

Di Maria (18th and 55th minutes), Julian Draxler (40th) and Edin Cavani (71st) on Tuesday scored for PSG to put the Catalan football powerhouse on the verge of elimination.

It was a memorable victory for PSG head coach Unai Emery, who had beaten Barcelona only once before in 23 matches during his tenure in La Liga with Valencia and Sevilla, reports Efe.

Barcelona hadn’t lost a Champions League contest by a four-goal margin since 2013, when they fell to Bayern Munich in the semi-final.

It was the third time in five seasons that the two sides, who are reported to have spent around $1.2 billion in the transfer market over the past six years, have encountered in the Champions League’s knockout contest. PSG were eliminated in the 2013 and 2015 quarter-finals, reports Xinhua.

This time, the hosts, who were without injured captain and defensive stalwart Thiago Silva, succeeded in containing the Barcelona attacking trident of Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez.

Emery handed 21-year-old Presnel Kimpembe his Champions League debut as a central back along with Marquinhos.

PSG kept Barcelona penned in their own end and the pressure led to defender Samuel Umtiti’s fouling Draxler in the 18th minute. Di Maria celebrated his 29th birthday with a superb free kick, spurring pandemonium among the 60,000 at Parc des Princes in the French capital.

Di Maria also scored the last time he faced Barcelona, that time for Real Madrid in the 2014 Copa del Rey final.

The goal provoked a response from Barcelona, but Andre Gomes squandered the visitors’ best chance to equalise, set up by a great pass from Messi.

With five minutes left before the break, PSG’s Adrien Rabiot got the ball away from Messi in Barcelona territory and connected with Marco Verratti, who found Draxler unmarked on the right and the German winter signing scored to double the hosts’ lead.

Di Maria got his second of the night in the 55th minute to make it 3-0 for PSG.

And just when it seemed things couldn’t get worse for the visitors, Cavani marked his 30th birthday by scoring in the 71st minute to complete the rout.

Umtiti’s header hit the post in the 84th minute, denying Barcelona the consolation of an away goal to lay the groundwork for a comeback in the second leg.

“There’s a simple explanation. Our opponents were superior, they won a majority of the duels, and they were effective. The score reflects what happened in the game,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique told the club’s website.

Facing a four-goal deficit, the Catalans, looking to reach the quarter-finals for their 10th straight campaign, will need to count on some magic when they compete in the second-leg back at Nou Camp in three weeks’ time.

“We’re a team that has shown time and again that we know how to come up big,” he said about the second leg. “It will be tough, but we’ll have a chance.”

–IANS

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