Mbappe and PSG aim to seize moment in CL semi-final – Sport

PARIS St Germain’s Kylian Mbappe heads the ball during a training session at the club’s training ground on Monday.—Reuters

PARIS: Paris St Germain are bidding to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit and beat Borussia Dortmund in their Champions League semi-final return match on Tuesday, with the aim of bringing the curtain down on the Kylian Mbappe era at the club in the final at Wembley.

The only time PSG have previously appeared in the biggest match in club football turned out to be a depressingly flat occasion, with the French side losing 1-0 to Bayern Munich behind closed doors in Lisbon in 2020, at the height of the pandemic.

Reaching the June 1 showpiece in London, and playing before a crowd of 90,000 against either Real Madrid or Bayern again, would be a different occasion entirely.

Getting there would give Mbappe the chance to end his seven-year stay with the Qatar-owned outfit in the best possible way, as they look to win the Champions League for the first time in their history, and just the second time for a French club after Olympique de Marseille in 1993.

Mbappe informed PSG in February of his intention to depart the Parc des Princes when his contract expires at the end of the season, ending a prolific association with his hometown team which began when he signed from Monaco in 2017.

Now 25 and the captain of France, Mbappe has become the Parisians’ all-time top scorer with 255 goals in 305 appearances so far, including 43 this season alone.

He has 48 in the Champions League — a tally which includes six with Monaco in his breakthrough 2016/17 campaign — and Tuesday’s second leg against Dortmund would be the ideal time for him to bring up the half-century.

Luis Enrique’s team did not produce their best performance in losing in Germany last week, and the pressure is on them as favourites to turn the tie around at home.

However, a repeat of what happened when they hosted Dortmund in the group stage last September will suffice — on that occasion they won 2-0, with Mbappe netting the first goal from the penalty spot.

“We are sure we are going to turn it around and qualify for the final,” Mbappe told media on Sunday on the sidelines of an event on the French capital’s famed Champs-Elysees.

“There is a lot of pressure on us, which is normal because there is a place in the Champions League final at stake. All the more so when you know about this club’s past in the competition.”

PSG were not necessarily expected to get as far as the semi-finals this season, with the squad undergoing a major overhaul following the departures of Lionel Messi and Neymar at the end of the last campaign.

They had gone out in the last 16 in five of the last seven seasons, frequently failing in spectacular fashion in that time.

Before this season, and since the Qatari takeover of the club in 2011, PSG had won nine Champions League knockout ties in total.

Five of those came behind closed doors in the Covid era, including two ties played as one-off games on neutral turf in Lisbon in 2020.

This season’s draw has been as kind as it could be, with Real Sociedad ideal opponents in the last 16 and Dortmund the best they could have wished for in the semi-finals.

However, their performance in overturning a first-leg deficit to defeat Barcelona in the last eight is not to be dismissed.

While all eyes will, as usual, be on Mbappe, the key to PSG’s chances of recovering from another first-leg loss when they face Dortmund may be in defence.

They suffered a huge blow when Lucas Hernandez ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while trying to stop Niclas Fuellkrug’s goal in Dortmund. He is set to be out for many months.

In addition, left-back Nuno Mendes, who has himself not long returned from a lengthy spell out, had a torrid time up against Jadon Sancho at the Signal Iduna Park.

Solid defending will again be crucial for PSG, who face a team with great attacking qualities and 11 different scorers on the European stage this season.

“The objective is not to play to win by two goals, it is just to win. You can’t afford to think about having to win by two goals,” coach Luis Enrique told reporters on Monday, weighing up the possibility of the tie being decided in extra time and even penalties. “We need to score one first of all, and win the match.”

The manager wants his side concentrated on all aspects of their game, not only in attack, and a goal from the Germans won’t be the end of the world.

“You could score twice in two minutes, but you could also concede a goal,” Luis Enrique said. “We have to be 100% focused on attack and defence. If we concede a goal, it is not serious, we have to stay calm. If we score twice very quickly, our opponents will have to react. It will be an even game with a high level of play on and off the ball, so it will be tough for both teams.”

One other factor in favour of PSG, who have already wrapped up the French title, might be freshness — their weekend Ligue 1 game at Nice was postponed to help them prepare.

Dortmund counterpart Edin Terzic was able to rest his entire team with the exception of goalkeeper Gregor Kobel as his B-side ran out 5-1 winners over Augsburg in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

“What we did last week might not be enough this week so we still need to improve,” Terzic told reporters at the Parc des Princes on Monday.

“What we didn’t like last week was that we had four players defending against Kylian Mbappe. We also know they will do better tomorrow, so we need to find the balance that we didn’t really have last week. If we have come this far we want to do better still and go all the way to win the title.”

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2024

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