Manchester United storm into the quarter-finals of the Champions League after a controversial and yet stunning victory in Paris.
If you’re stuck on a transatlantic flight; four-year-old kicking you in the liver, boredom and irritation descending on you like a palm tree with a severe case of coconut dandruff, then watch In Search of Greatness.
The documentary focuses on what made Jerry Rice, Wayne Gretzky and Pelé three of the greatest sportsmen of all time, and something Rice said comes to mind after waking up to learn that Manchester United became the first team in European Cup/Champions League history to overturn a 2-0 or greater home first leg-deficit.
Rice said there is majesty in the star who is willing to take the last shot in the NBA Finals, the final penalty kick in a World Cup, or run towards the end zone for the final play of the Superbowl.
A star emerged last night.
The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzche described the secret to human perfection as amor fati – a love of fate. The notion reminds us that we should not want the world to be any different – to find peace in happiness and suffering.
As a Man Utd fan, I confess, I didn’t embrace Nietzche’s wisdom during the Jose Mourinho era. There was a deep freeze about the club. Creativity replaced by a strict code of conduct that seemed to rip the heart out of the once great institution. But that’s all changed since Ole Solskjaer joined the club in December.
After losing 2-0 at home to Paris St Germain (PSG) in the first leg of the Round of 16, everyone wrote them off. Not only did they lose the imperious Paul Pogba through suspension, but the Norwegian was without ten players missing through injury including the influential Jesse Lingard, Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial.
It will be a long time before anyone writes them off again.
United needed a fast start, and they got one courtesy of a howler when Thilo Kehrer played a blind backpass to Gianluca Buffon, and Romelu Lukaku reached the ball first, rounded the Italian, and slid the ball home with two minutes played.
PSG’s response was swift and brutal.
With 12-minutes on the big round thing, Kylian Mbappe breezed into the United area down the right flank and put in a peach of a ball, which Juan Bernat finished at the far post.
Despite PSG enjoying large swathes of possession, it was United who went into the half-time break with the lead. Once again it was a mistake at the back from PSG that led to the opening. Marcus Rashford fired a long-range swerve of a shot. Gianluca Buffon spilt it, and Lukaku pounced for his 15th goal of the season, and a third brace on the trot.
The second half was much the same as the first with PSG playing the role of ‘attack’ and the Manchester club taking on the role of ‘defence.’ Seven minutes from time, and Bernat nearly secured the win when he struck the base of the post after more good work from Mbappe, but then came that Jerry Rice moment.
With 90-minutes registered, Diogo Dalot sent a speculative shot heading to the moon, when the ball struck the arm of Presnel Kimpembe who had leapt into the air with back turned.
VAR officials wanted a closer look, and after conferring with the Slovenian referee, they handed United a lifeline from the penalty spot. With United’s penalty taker, Pogba, out of commission, up stepped the 21-year-old, Rashford, to fire the ball home, and send United’s players and fans into delirium.
Speaking to BTSport after the game, Rashford told Gary Lineker, Rio Ferdinand and co., that he had to take it, and that is a sign of greatness from the young man.
Solskjaer has now won 14 of his 17 games in charge, tasting defeat only once. It was United’s ninth straight away win, and only Man City has won more games (15) in the whole of Europe since the Norwegian was appointed.
For PSG it was their first home defeat of the season, ending a run of eight successive wins in all competition. The French giants may be 17-points clear at the top of the Ligue 1, but they have now exited from the Round of 16 of the Champions League in each of the last three seasons.
Real Madrid 1 v 4 Ajax (3-5 agg)
Dortmund 0 v 1 Spurs (0-4 agg)
Porto 3 v 1 Roma (4-3 agg)
PSG 1 v 3 Man Utd (3-3 agg, Utd win on away goals)
To be Played
Man City v Schalke (3-2 agg)
Juventus v Atlético Madrid (0-2 agg)
Bayern v Liverpool (0-0 agg)
Barcelona v Lyon (0-0 agg)
Champions League Odds
Man City 5/2
Atlético Madrid 8/1
Man Utd 10/1
The draw for the quarter-finals is on Friday, 15 March.