Manchester City ignored all the past odds to finally reach the coveted Champions League finals after edging out a dangerous Paris Saint-Germain side.
Pep Guardiola fine-tuned the Manchester side both in the attack and defense to snatch a deserved 2-0 win over Mauricho Pochetino’s men to bool a ticket for the Instanbul final in Turkey.
PSG had threatened to turn the tie around during a first half in which City repeatedly gave the ball away as Guardiola looked on with his hands on his crystal bald head.
Riyad Mahrez, a French-born Algerian attacker who had the winning goal in the first leg, scored in each half of a hot-tempered match in cold conditions at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium.
Already facing an uphill battle, PSG played without French superstar Kylian Mbappé, whose calf injury kept him in a stadium jacket the entire evening. Mbappé, a hero of France’s 2018 World Cup championship, entered the day with 37 goals in 43 appearances across all competitions this season, including eight in 10 Champions League matches. He was not in uniform Saturday for a 2-1 victory over Lens in France’s Ligue 1, an absence suggesting he would use the time to heal for the Manchester City rematch.
Mbappé’s absence increased the burden on Neymar, the magnificent Brazilian attacker. He had prime support from Argentina’s Angel Di María and Italy’s Marco Verratti, but given his fame and skill-set, Neymar failed to carry PSG’s dreams as he constantly gave the ball away in situations that he could have passed the leather.
A freakish storm of hail and snow had littered the field before the game, testing the players’ footing and passing touch. The visitors were unbothered, attacking with furious ambition while also embellishing contact in an effort to draw fouls or a penalty kick.
PSG’s boisterous protests seemed to persuade referee Bjorn Kuipers to award an early penalty, but video replay showed the ball striking Oleksandr Zinchenko’s shoulder, not his left arm. Accordingly, Kuipers overturned his initial decision.
Moments later, Manchester City extinguished PSG’s momentum by scoring on a rapid sequence that began with goalkeeper Ederson. Much more than a shot-stopper, the Brazilian is known for his footwork and distribution. He responded to PSG’s high pressure by driving the ball well beyond midfield and into the path of Zinchenko sailing down the left wing.
The Ukrainian chased it down wide of the penalty area and crossed to Kevin De Bruyne at the top of the box. A defender deflected the low and powerful shot to Mahrez on the back side for an angled one-timer past goalkeeper Keylor Navas in the 11th minute.
Hardly deflated, PSG responded with energy and purpose. Needing two goals to force extra time, the visitors had nothing left to lose. Marquinhos, who had scored in the first leg, sent a soaring header off the crossbar and, with Ederson stranded after a giveaway, Di María missed an open net by a whisker.
The temperature continued to rise, with PSG going all out for an equalizer before intermission and Manchester City seeking to slam the door.
The pace and intensity did not let up until the halftime whistle, which allowed players to catch their breath, PSG Manager Mauricio Pochettino to plot a desperate course and Mbappé to prepare for a possible entry. But he turned out to be a decoy, never leaving his seat to warm up.
PSG’s second half began with some promise before unraveling. In the 63rd minute, Manchester City counterattacked with speed and precision, culminating with Phil Foden’s cross to Mahrez for an easy finish on the back side. PSG was done, and there was no need to risk further injury to Mbappé, who will be needed for a tight Ligue 1 race.
Facing the almost impossible task of scoring three times, PSG was left shorthanded in the 69th minute when Di María was red-carded for stomping on Fernandinho’s lower leg while both were beyond the sideline.
The nastiness continued, but at the end, Manchester City players were all smiles — and offering tears of joy. Their supporters had waited a lifetime.
(Additional Report courtesy of Washingtonpost.Com)