Ezequiel Lavezzi shone in Zlatan Ibrahimović's absence to seal Paris Saint-Germain FC's quarter-final slot, telling UEFA.com: "We knew without him we'd need to work even harder."
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Forward Ezequiel Lavezzi says he and his Paris Saint-Germain FC team-mates "made a sacrifice" to compensate for Zlatan Ibrahimović's absence and ensure the French club qualified for the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals at Valencia CF's expense.
Ibrahimović's suspension following his first-leg sending-off prompted a change in tactics from coach Carlo Ancelotti, who played Lavezzi as a lone striker to make room for an extra man, Clément Chantôme, in midfield. With the Ligue 1 leaders forced to defend for long periods, the Argentina winger was often an isolated figure, yet his tireless running and pace provided the hosts with an important threat on the counterattack.
The Parc des Princes faithful may have feared the worst when Jonas opened the scoring in the 55th minute, but Lavezzi's leveller 11 minutes later provided a timely fillip, and PSG held out for a 3-2 aggregate win. The 27-year-old was delighted to have survived a difficult test. "It was really complicated for us because Valencia prepared for the match very well, like us, but we were a bit more conservative," the ex-SSC Napoli man told UEFA.com.
On playing without his usual attacking partner, Lavezzi said: "Ibrahimović is a top player and he's very important for the team. We knew that without him we'd need to work even harder and make a sacrifice to go through."
If the Swede has delivered the majority of PSG's domestic goals this season, Lavezzi is their top scorer in Europe. Having registered his fifth in his last four European outings, Lavezzi is looking forward to the quarter-finals. "This is a very challenging and exciting competition," he said. "It's important to be playing in knockout matches like these – it gives you extra motivation. You have to be 100% focused and never relax."
Lavezzi's enthusiasm was echoed by his team-mates, with Blaise Matuidi describing qualification as "a great moment for the club". The France midfielder added: "It wasn't easy. We were up against a very strong Valencia team, but we stuck together, defended well and were clinical on the counterattack. We knew we needed a good performance to go through and we produced one."
Of the goalscorer's display, Matuidi said: "Lavezzi is an exceptional player and we're lucky to have him. But it's not just him. We saw today we can count on everyone." Goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu was among the PSG players to make a vital contribution, and he admitted it was a nervy second leg. "Feeling scared is part of life," he reflected. "It's normal to feel scared. We were wary of Valencia so now we're very satisfied because [reaching the quarter-finals is] an exceptional achievement."