Marcus Rashford had never taken a penalty for Manchester United before.
Think about that for a second. He’s 21. It is the last minute of a Champions League knockout match, with victory in the balance. Against him is Gianluigi Buffon, one of the greatest, most experienced goalkeepers the game will ever see. And 50,000 or so Parisians, give or take.
If he scores, this will be one of the greatest comebacks in European history. If he misses, there will be no hiding place. And, beside him, is a £75m striker, almost five years older, and on a hat-trick: Romelu Lukaku. Yet Rashford is taking it.
Marcus Rashford was the hero in Paris, slotting home a last-gasp penalty to send Manchester United into the quarter-finals
The youngster kept his composure after waiting for the decision to be given as the referee consulted VAR on the touchline
Rashford smashed the ball into the top left corner, beating Gianluigi Buffon despite the legendary ‘keeper going the right way
United players sprinted to the corner in the wake of their goalscoring team-mate after the ball rippled the back of the net
The controversial call was made by ref Damir Skomina after consulting VAR and deciding Presnel Kimpembe handled the ball
The game threatened to boil over late on, as tempers reached new levels between both sides in the fiery encounter
PSG (4-2-3-1): Buffon; Kehrer (Parades 70′), Thiago Silva, Kimpembe, Bernat; Verratti, Marquinhos; Dani Alves (Cavani 90+5), Draxler (Meunier 70′), Di Maria; Mbappe
Subs: Areola, Choupo-Moting, Kurzawa, Dagba
Booked: Di Maria, Parades
Goal: Bernat 12
Man Utd (5-2-3): De Gea, Shaw, Bailly (Dalot 36′), Smalling, Lindelof, Young (Greenwood 87′); Fred, McTominay; Pereira (Chong 80′), Lukaku, Rashford.
Subs: Romero, Rojo, Garner, Gomes
Goals: Lukaku 2, 30, Rashford 90+4(pen)
Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)
Think about that for a second.
In these moments, he looks so young, standing over the ball, glancing up, assessing Buffon, veteran of so many shoot-outs, so much sudden death. He should have been fazed. Was he fazed? Was he heck.
Rashford walked back ready for a long run, curved it, took a few short steps, took a few long ones, took an almighty shot into the roof of the net to propel Manchester United into the Champions League quarter-finals, Buffon nowhere. He left Paris Saint-Germain’s players sprawled on the turf, spent, broken – Neymar impotently furious on the bench. What a player Rashford is.
We have seen scenes like this before, of course, and we all remember when. Bayern Munich at Nou Camp, 1999. And we know the common denominator, too. He was there on the bench, in a gold bib, because UEFA thought his top clashed too much with PSG’s colours. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The second coming.
They were singing his name long into the night, the travellers; and no wonder. This was not just a win, it was a win that rewrote the record books, one that was achieved with a shadow of the team that Manchester United could field. It was a win that was never meant to happen; and yet that could be said of a lot of the greatest events in Solskjaer’s career.
So just give it to him. Not because Manchester United won, not because they set records, or are the first team to overturn a 2-0 first leg deficit at home in this competition, not even because they beat one of the greatest teams in Europe with a weakened XI.
Romelu Lukaku had capitalised upon a blunder from legendary Gianlugi Buffon to follow up for United’s second goal
The Italian goalkeeper fumbled Marcus Rashford’s long-range shot and Lukaku reacted fastest to slot the ball home
The former Juventus star was unable to get his hands to the ball and spilled it out to the onrushing Lukaku
Bib-wearing boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer punched the air on the touchline, as Lukaku’s second goal gave his side hope
He’s Sir Alex Ferguson 2.0. Haven’t you noticed? Only one man might have progressed in this situation, and with such incredible drama. Ferguson’s narratives were second to none and Solskjaer is his direct descendant. On nights like this it all makes sense, Of course the matchwinner in Nou Camp should be the architect of a victory achieved in such astonishing circumstances.
There was a minute remaining when Diogo Dalot tried a shot from range, which struck PSG defender Presnel Kimpembe. It looked innocuous enough, certainly there were no widespread appeals or even cries from the away end. Dalot signalled for a handball, but it was considered to be in desperation. Referee Damir Skomina must have heard voices in his head, however – because suddenly he was signalling for VAR.
Off he went, back he came – and United had the most incredible lifeline. They looked to have done everything but progress until that moment, but suddenly, here it was. The golden ticket. ‘Ooh-ah, VAR,’ sang the away end, although the locals weren’t seeing the joke.
It has been milestone after milestone for Solskjaer in his brief reign and on Wednesday night another two club records tumbled. The most consecutive away wins by a Manchester United team – nine – overtaking a record run from the Ferguson years.
And the most consecutive goals in away games – 21 – beating a sequence between November 1956 and September 1957 under Sir Matt Busby. Jose Mourinho is part of that second record, mind, but not the first. It begins with Solskjaer’s win in Cardiff. Remember when it was considered he had it easy? Since then he was won at Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, PSG – and drawn with Liverpool at home.
Angel di Maria pulled off a sublime chip to put the ball in the back of the net against his old club, but was in an offside position
The Argentina international peeled away to celebrate but soon realised something was wrong with his finish
The linesman’s flag was straight in the air, after Di Maria was beyond the defensive line following Kylian Mbappe’s flick
As the contest heated up, Scott McTominay was penalised for catching the face of Marquinhos as they vied for the ball
Injured superstar Neymar watched on from up in the stands with his entourage, as PSG battled on the pitch
Legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson was also in the stands, having travelled to Paris with the United players and staff
1 – This was the first time in 35 attempts a team has made it through to the next round of the Champions League after losing the first leg at home by two or more goals.
And while United undoubtedly rode their luck in Paris – certainly in the first half when the home side could have had the tie won – just to limit this team to a single goal was a mighty achievement. Only one team has done that in PSG’s last seven home games – but Bordeaux couldn’t score.
United could, three times. And, yes, sometimes a result defies all logic, as it did here. Having been so thoroughly outplayed by PSG with a far stronger starting XI in the first leg, few gave Manchester United a prayer in Paris. They were missing the best part of their best team and had not so much a substitutes bench as a crèche.
Many of the players Solskjaer kept in reserve probably had to travel with their documents encased in plastic and hung around their necks, accompanied onto the plane by flight attendants. And yet, when half-time came they were leading 2-1.
How? Good fortune, mainly. The tactical masterstroke was yet to come, when Solskjaer stifled PSG by switching to 4-5-1 and deployed Ashley Young and Dalot almost as double full-backs on the right. First-half, they simply got away with it. United were murdered, particularly down that flank where makeshift right-back Eric Bailly endured a torrid time.
PSG were, in spells, simply irresistible. As the clock ticked towards 15 minutes they were operating at 92 per cent possession.
Yet somehow, United led, lost that lead, then led again. PSG found ways to concede and were never in front the entire match. Maybe, like Real Madrid 24 hours earlier, they thought they had the game won before kick-off. Maybe, like the rest of us, they took account of the lead and United’s absentees and concluded it was in the bag. Lukaku disavowed them of that illusion after two minutes – or rather Thilo Kehrer did.
Earlier in the first half, full back Juan Bernat had pulled PSG level by arriving at the back post to slot the ball home
The diminutive Spaniard latched on to a pacey cross zipped across the face of goal to apply the finishing touch
Goalkeeper David de Gea tried desperately to claw the ball back, but it had already beaten him and crossed well over the line
The No 14 was mobbed by his team-mates, after cancelling out the early strike in the game from the visitors
The mercurial Mbappe provided the assist for Bernat, and was thanked by the Spaniard amid the celebrations
Lukaku had opened the scoring inside three minutes at the Parc des Princes by beating Thiago Silva and rounding Buffon
The Belgian shifted his body weight to commit the veteran stopper to ground, before knocking the ball past him
Buffon could only look back across as Lukaku’s effort made the back of the net ripple to put United back ahead in Paris
With the angle getting away from him, Lukaku lunged at the ball and picked out the bottom corner from a tight angle
The Belgian was going at such speed that his momentum sent him hurling into the advertisement hoardings at pitch side
The in-form forward was congratulated by United team-mates after getting the match off to the perfect start for his side
PSG having spent the opening minutes knocking the ball about as if engaged in a training exercise – and not a greatly energised one – it was his dreadful back pass that allowed United’s striker to run on goal, slipping the ball past Buffon as he scurried from his line in a desperate attempt to avoid calamity. The damage done, however, for the next 28 minutes or so PSG dominated.
Bailly was giving Kehrer a run for his money as the worst right back on the field and, when Kylian Mbappe is around, every error, every moment of uncertainty is potentially fatal.
For PSG’s equaliser, Mbappe capitalised on a moment of hesitation on the flank from Luke Shaw, hitting a deep cross which was met by Juan Bernat, moving past Bailly who appeared mystifyingly unaware of the danger. In the period that followed the tie could have been lost. Dani Alves, Bernat and Angel di Maria all came close, before the strangest thing happened. PSG conceded again.
Rashford hit an ambitious shot from 30 yards which, frankly, wasn’t up to much and for that reason ended up pitching on the skiddy surface – the visitors having brought the weather with them – directly in front of Buffon. He must have seen a thousand like it but, this one, he spilled – and Lukaku was on hand to score again.
United’s luck continued. In the 35th minute, Bailly, who had taken a knock a little earlier, felt unable to continue and was replaced by Dalot. That changed the game.
PSG only threatened once after, when Bernat hit a post. It was a fabulous team display. At the end, Manchester United’s players ran towards their fans in celebration. Chris Smalling kicked the match ball towards the away end, and it missed.
This is the group Solskjaer steered past PSG and a two-goal start. Seriously, what is keeping them?