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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Ibrahimovic shines as PSG knock out Chelsea

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored one and created another as Paris Saint-Germain won 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday to eliminate Chelsea from the Champions League for the second season running.

Ibrahimovic shines as PSG knock out Chelsea
Photo: AFP

Leading 2-1 from the first leg of the last 16 tie, PSG stretched their lead when Ibrahimovic crossed for Adrien Rabiot to tap in and although Diego Costa's slick finish gave Chelsea hope, Ibrahimovic volleyed home in the 67th minute to complete a 4-2 aggregate success.

Victory took Laurent Blanc's PSG into the quarter-finals for the fourth year in a row, while Chelsea were left to contemplate a first season without Champions League football since 2002-03.

Ten points off the top four in the Premier League, Chelsea's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League via the league are paper-thin and their chances of bouncing back in Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final at Everton were jeopardised by injuries to Costa and Eden Hazard.

Much of the pre-game attention had focused on Costa and Ibrahimovic, and it was PSG's Swedish talisman who emerged triumphant as the French champions claimed further revenge for their elimination by Chelsea in 2014.

Sent off at Stamford Bridge a year ago, when PSG's 2-2 draw took them through on away goals, he belied doubts about his big-game temperament to keep the runaway Ligue 1 leaders on course for a potential quadruple.

Marco Verratti's failure to recover from a groin injury meant that Rabiot started in midfield for PSG and he almost cost his side an early goal with a loose pass that culminated in Kevin Trapp parrying from Costa.

But with Angel di Maria and Lucas Moura abandoning their wings at will, PSG's attack bristled with menace and in the sixth minute stand-in Chelsea captain Branislav Ivanovic had to slide a shot from Di Maria off the line after he had been played in by Lucas.

Motta careless

Ten minutes later PSG tightened their grip on the tie as Di Maria played a pass behind the Chelsea defence for Ibrahimovic, whose masterful low cross was turned in by Rabiot.

Leading 3-1 on aggregate, it should have been the cue for PSG to take the sting out of the game, but instead they allowed Chelsea to level on the night with a goal that owed equally to Thiago Motta's carelessness in possession and the hosts' dazzling interplay.

After Pedro Rodriguez nipped in to rob Motta, Willian played a quick one-two with the Spaniard before feeding Costa, who expertly turned Thiago Silva and drilled home left-footed.

Ibrahimovic put a header straight at Thibaut Courtois from a Lucas cross, but the hosts finished the half with the wind in their sails, Cesc Fabregas, Hazard and Costa all going close to levelling the tie.

Costa had another sight of goal early in the second half, David Luiz blocking his shot from Willian's cut-back, but the Spain international, who had been a constant menace, had to go off on the hour after appearing to hurt his calf, with Bertrand Traore replacing him.

Guus Hiddink's side came close to making light of Costa's departure, but Trapp produced a sharp double-save to thwart Willian and then Hazard, and within two minutes the tie was over.

Motta's astute pass to the left found Di Maria in acres of space and his fine cross was volleyed in emphatically by Ibrahimovic.

Chelsea's mood darkened yet further with 14 minutes remaining when Hazard limped off, but the hosts' fire had already burnt itself out.

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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

PSG confident of Real Madrid scalp despite Neymar’s absence

Paris Saint-Germain remain optimistic that they can record what would be the biggest victory since the Qatari takeover of the club, even with Neymar out injured, when they face Real Madrid on Tuesday. Can they do it?

PSG confident of Real Madrid scalp despite Neymar's absence
AFP

A late collapse saw PSG lose 3-1 in Madrid last month in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie. And they come into Tuesday's return without Neymar, as the world's most expensive player recovers in Brazil from a foot operation.

Despite that blow, and the prospect of having to overturn such a deficit against the two-time reigning European champions, PSG are not throwing in the
towel as they bid to reach the quarter-finals.

“I think that we need games like this and to beat these teams to take a step forward and so that our opponents really take notice of PSG, and don't just think we have loads of money,” said Dani Alves, who played in two Champions League final victories for Barcelona and was in the Juventus side beaten by Real in last season's final.

“I said last summer when I was presented here that I wasn't coming just to live in Paris or take the money. I came here because I am a competitor,” added
Alves, speaking to media at the Parc des Princes on the eve of the game.

After Qatar Sports Investments bought the club in 2011, PSG had four successive quarter-final defeats in the Champions League before the
humiliation in Barcelona in the last 16 a year ago.

A failure to turn the tie around on Tuesday would mean PSG being eliminated by one of Spain's big two for the fourth time in six seasons.

“PSG have had their limits in this competition in the past and now we need to go beyond them to keep on progressing as a club,” added Alves.

Neymar's absence is an obviously huge blow, but Alves and coach Unai Emery both insisted that Paris have enough quality in their ranks to cope without
him.

“When one player is missing, it opens the door for someone else, and I know that whoever comes in through that door will do so with all their force,” said
Emery.

Angel Di Maria, who won the Champions League with Real in 2014, is likely to be the major beneficiary of Neymar's absence.

The Argentine has been PSG's form player with 13 goals in 14 starts in 2018, although he has played just 67 minutes in the Champions League this
season.

“He is a spectacular player, who made history with Real Madrid. He can play in any position across the middle, he moves well, has a good shot, and is quick,” said Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane.

No margin for error

Di Maria has a point to prove, as does Emery, who took charge of his 100th PSG game at the weekend.

His contract expires in June and there is surely no prospect of a renewal in the event of a defeat, even with PSG on course for a domestic clean sweep.

The pressure is also on Zidane, albeit less so after the manner of their first-leg victory.

Cristiano Ronaldo, whose brace in the first leg took him past 100 Champions League goals for Real, is in form again and the Spanish giants have not been knocked out at this stage of the competition since 2010.

“Tomorrow (Tuesday), after the game, it's going to be difficult for one of the two teams, but that is football,” said Zidane.

Fifteen points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona and out of the Copa del Rey, Real are throwing everything into their quest to win a third consecutive Champions League.

“That can mean added pressure or added motivation,” said captain Sergio Ramos. “We are focusing everything on the Champions League and the margin for error is minimal.”

Toni Kroos and Luka Modric trained on the Parc des Princes pitch on Monday evening and could play after spells on the sidelines with respective knee and thigh problems.

Javier Pastore, who had been a slight doubt with a calf problem, was named in the PSG squad.