Graham Hunter on an 'unbelievable' night in Barcelona
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Graham Hunter reflects on a night when belief gave way to unbridled joy on and off the pitch after Barcelona completed the biggest comeback in UEFA Champions League history.
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Football can be so stunningly unbelievable, when it is played like this, that people use the phrase: "There are no words!"
But there are. They tumble out of you, but it is how to pack in all the visual images and in which order to put them.
Lionel Messi running in the opposite direction to his team-mates when the definitive, sixth, goal went in and leaping up on to the wall behind the goal to celebrate, without any trace of restraint, in the arms of dozens of Barcelona supporters after the Liga leaders had overturned a 4-0 first-leg deficit.
The greatest player in Blaugrana history was, like the rest of the world when he produces his little football miracles, reduced to the need to roar at the sky, to hug, to carouse, to pump fists.
That was surely the image: arguably the greatest player ever rendered delirious with joy by someone else and, instantly, following his gut, his heart, rather than protocol. He celebrated with the passionate, hoarse-throated fans. I was there. I saw it.
What about Gerard Piqué, eyes red as tears forced their way up? A symbol of the belief, a symbol that the victors never once stopped believing even when they required three goals in the three remaining minutes of normal time?
It was a remarkable image. He believed, he NEVER stopped believing. Then, when the sixth goal went in, he could not believe it. Such is football at its very outer limits.
Luis Enrique danced around the pitch, forgetting that he was not meant to be back on the playing surface he once graced, but he was lost in marvel, completely overtaken by the moment. Except that he remembered to share it – with his assistant Juan Carlos Unzué and goalkeeping coach José Ramón de la Fuente. They did a jig, embracing while they danced.
But remarkable spectacles like this do not only embed themselves on the retina of your memory because of the winners.
Poor old Kevin Trapp, the Paris Saint-Germain keeper who has been so terrific since taking over from Alphonse Areola, sat there desolate on the same patch of grass as Sammy Kuffour beat with his fists in disbelieving anger when Manchester United scored two goals of their own in the last three minutes of the 1999 UEFA Champions League final.
Is there something about this goal, the 'Gol Nord' of the Camp Nou, which demands ultra-drama? That would be fanciful. But the pain which Trapp and his team-mates were feeling was so similar to that of Bayern München 18 years ago.
Paris, just like Bayern, had the opportunities to finish this. They hit a post, Marc-André ter Stegen saved, heroically, from Paris goalscorer Edinson Cavani and only the unreasonable would have criticised Unai Emery's players for thinking they were through when they were three goals ahead on aggregate in the 87th minute of this round of 16 second leg.
Those who did not believe that was the case were the Barça fans. They stayed, and they must have believed they were staying so as to say: "Bad luck boys, but thanks." Instead it was history. Bedlam. "A triumph for faith," Luis Enrique said when the dust had settled.
The roars died away and the players, so quickly calm and analytical behind the scenes, went home. But these memories, they will take forever to dissipate.