Barcelona – For a victory “defined by faith” according to Barcelona boss Luis Enrique, the Catalans rose from the dead inspired by the man who never stopped believing.
‘As long as there’s a one percent chance, we’ll have 99% faith,” said Neymar before a ball had been kicked in Barca’s stunning revival from a 4-0 first leg deficit to beat Paris Saint-Germain 6-1.
A few hours, two goals and a vital 95th minute assist for Sergi Roberto to cap the biggest comeback in the history of the Champions League later, Neymar hailed his display as the “best game” of his career.
‘This is the best game I have ever played. For what it meant, for what we experienced,’ said the 25-year-old.
Neymar hasn’t always had the easiest time since swapping Santos for Spain three-and-a-half years ago.
The murky series of contracts that sealed his transfer have seen Neymar, his father and Barcelona dragged through the courts on corruption and tax evasion charges.
Yet, it is for nights like Wednesday that Barca paid millions to recruit and then renew Neymar’s contract till 2021 in October.
Pre-match focus had framed the seemingly impossible comeback only realistic if Lionel Messi made it happen.
Instead, three times in a frantic final seven minutes, it was Neymar, not Messi, that took responsibility and dragged Barca back from the brink into a record 10th consecutive quarter-final.
Firstly, he curled home a brilliant free-kick and then took over penalty duty, despite Messi having earlier converted from the spot, to leave Barca needing just one more.
Amid the bedlam of nearly 100 000 voices at the Camp Nou, Neymar then calmly cut inside with Barca’s last chance as the seconds ticked down to tease in the perfect cross on his weaker left foot for Sergi Roberto to apply the finishing touch.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Valencia v Sporting Gijon (12:00), Sevilla v Leganes (15:15), Malaga v Alaves (17:30), Granada v Atletico Madrid (19:45)
Real Sociedad v Athletic Bilbao, Deportivo la Coruna v Barcelona (15:15), Celta Vigo v Villarreal (17:30), Real Madrid v Real Betis (19:45)
Osasuna v Eibar (19:45)