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End of an era as Mbappe suffers final PSG failure

Sports

13 days ago
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Kylian Mbappe would have dreamed of lifting the Champions League trophy for his final European act as a Paris St-Germain player. The reality was very different.

Instead, Mbappe’s final moment in the competition for PSG had him slipping over as he chased a lost cause, a through ball he was never going to reach, in a game which was by that point beyond the Parisians.

That slip in the final seconds of injury time came as Borussia Dortmund’s 2-0 aggregate victory was safe and sealed following a stout defensive display full of energetic pressing, helped by a sizeable slice of luck.

And it was a slip that provides the final word in one of the most disappointing eras of modern European football - PSG’s star-studded but unsuccessful hunt for the Champions League.

"This was unusual for Kylian Mbappe," former England defender Rio Ferdinand, a Champions League winner with Manchester United in 2008, told TNT Sports. "He's a guy we're accustomed to seeing at the biggest moments, on the biggest stage, when it's all on the line.

"All through his career he's stepped up to the plate, but over the two legs here he was very subdued.

"He wasn't decisive, he wasn't clinical."

When Qatar Sports Investment took over PSG in 2011, the biggest prize in Europe became the goal, backed by increasingly extravagant spending.

This kicked up a notch in 2017 with the world-record acquisition of Neymar from Barcelona, followed by the signing of Mbappe a year later following his crowning as a World Cup winner with France.

Then, in 2021, it seemed the dream was within touching distance as arguably the greatest of all time, Lionel Messi, was signed on a free transfer. Surely, with such a star-studded front three, a first Champions League was within their grasp.

Yet none of those three will be in Paris come the summer, scattered to the corners of Miami, Saudi Arabia and, likely, Madrid, without a Champions League trophy in the Parc des Princes cabinet.

Since 2017, PSG have won almost everything else possible - six out of seven Ligue 1 titles, three Coupes de France with a possible fourth to come this season as they face Lyon in the 2024 final, and the last-ever French League Cup.

But not the Champions League. Indeed, only three times since 2017 have PSG even gone beyond the last 16 - reaching the final in the Covid-hit year of 2020, the semis the season after, and then this current campaign.

‘The big players usually find a moment’

PSG remain a level below the elite. They have lost all four legs of their two-legged Champions League semis in the QSI era, against Manchester City in 2020-21 and now Dortmund in 2023-24.

This failure will particularly sting, having failed to score against the fifth-placed side in the Bundesliga despite having 44 shots in two games. It is the highest number of shots a team has had without scoring in a two-legged Champions League tie since Opta records began in 2003-04.

They hit the post six times in the tie, including four times in the second half in Paris. Warren Zaire-Emery was punished for contriving to strike the upright with the goal gaping as Mats Hummels arrowed in a towering header to score for Dortmund shortly after.

Nuno Mendes hit the woodwork from distance, before both Mbappe and Vitinha struck the bar in the final minutes.

It is yet another example of PSG lacking quality when it matters most in the Champions League, with their biggest names - Mbappe, in this case - failing to deliver when it counts.

"You have to give Dortmund massive credit, they didn't allow Mbappe to get one v one," Ferdinand said.

"But the big players just usually find a moment."

There are some positive signs for PSG. They have shown impressive fighting spirit to even get this far in the 2023-24 Champions League, not least in recovering from a 4-1 shellacking at Newcastle in the group stage.

A 98th-minute Mbappe penalty snatched a point in the reverse fixture against the Magpies, which proved decisive in earning them second place in Group F, behind Dortmund but ahead of AC Milan.

They then launched a remarkable second-leg comeback to beat Barcelona in the quarter-final, displaying a blend of silk and steel in the image of their manager Luis Enrique.

He is clearly making plans for the future. At 24 years and 157 days, PSG had the youngest starting XI for a Champions League semi-final match since Arsenal in their second leg against Manchester United in 2008-09.

"I'm happy from what I saw from my team," Luis Enrique told his post-match media conference. "A real spirit. A team that gave everything.

"The supporters were incredible. I hope we have this togetherness going forward. Players that sweat for the shirt."

A new era is dawning at PSG. Whether it can avoid the failures of the past remains to be seen.

source: BBC Sports