Blaise Matuidi's deflected strike in injury time rescued a 2-2 draw for Paris Saint-Germain against Barcelona and kept French hopes alive after a pulsating end to their Champions League quarterfinal first leg.
Xavi's late penalty for Barcelona looked to have sealed a 2-1 victory and put the Blaugrana firmly in control for the return at Camp Nou, but the combination of Matuidi's goal and a hamstring injury suffered by Lionel Messi will have PSG believing they can cause an upset next Wednesday.
With Messi absent for the second half, Barca were a far less convincing proposition. The world's best player will undergo further tests tomorrow, but there appears a good chance he will not be fit to play in next week's decisive second leg.
Barcelona have a world-class squad, but any team without the four-time Ballon d'Or winner is considerably maligned. In his absence, PSG will feel victory is possible in Spain.
FC Barcelona @FCBarcelona
Messi sustained an injury to his right hamstring. He will undergo further tests on Wednesday to determine the extent of the injury. #FCBLive4/2/2013, 7:52:53 PM
Messi's injury, which came after he had put Barca ahead with a clinical finish from Dani Alves' delightful pass on 38 minutes, was one of two pieces of misfortune that blighted Barca in Paris. The second was Zlatan Ibrahimovic's equaliser, which was scored from an offside position.
Ibrahimovic's backstory with Barcelona demanded an influence for PSG and he duly delivered, albeit in controversial fashion. After Thiago Silva's header crashed against the post, the Swede reacted swiftly to pocket the rebound and draw his team level on 79 minutes. It was a fine finish, but replays confirmed Ibrahimovic was two yards offside when Silva made contact.
The partisan crowd in Paris cared not a bit and began to sense a shot at victory. PSG pushed forward and Barca's back line appeared vulnerable, especially when probed with high balls into the box.
But Barca leaned on their considerable experience and refused to buckle. And when Alexis Sanchez was felled by PSG goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu late on, their captain Xavi strode up and passed the ball into the bottom corner from the penalty spot with the nonchalance of a man who'd seen it all before—which he has.
That goal appeared to have ended the contest as a tie, but Ibrahimovic still had a point to make. With the game into added time, he chested the ball into the path of Matuidi and invited a shot which squeezed past the excellent Victor Valdes and lifted the crowd to their feet again.
Matuidi will miss the second leg through suspension, but the Frenchman will at least watch on knowing he has given Carlo Ancelloti's team—for whom the 37-year-old David Beckham produced a convincing 70-minute performance in holding midfield—a fighting chance.
Ibrahimovic, meanwhile, will now contemplate a shot at sweet redemption against the team he feels undermined him and in the stadium he once played home matches in. It seems unlikely his former teammate Messi will be in opposition, which means Zlatan may finally be afforded the star billing he so badly wanted at Barcelona.
Barcelona are still favorites, but PSG will fancy their chances.
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