By Zoran Milosavljevic
BELGRADE (Reuters) – Paris Saint Germain reached the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday thanks to an inspired performance by their three-pronged attack of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe in a 4-1 win at Red Star Belgrade.
All three forwards scored in an intimidating atmosphere at Red Star’s Rajko Mitic stadium, and midfielder Marquinhos was also on target to cancel out a sumptuous volley by Red Star defender Marko Gobeljic.
The result lifted the French champions to the top of Group C on 11 points from six games, two ahead of Liverpool who also qualified thanks to a 1-0 home win over Napoli that left them ahead of the Italian side on goals scored.
The visitors dominated the first half in Belgrade, and Cavani fired them ahead with a 10th-minute tap-in from close range after Mbappe raced clear of his marker and squared the ball back to the Uruguay striker.
The home side were barely able to get out of their own half in the opening period, and livewire Neymar doubled Paris St Germain’s lead in the 40th minute with an individual goal of the highest quality.
Having picked up the ball near the halfway line, the Brazilian sent one home defender after another sprawling on their backs with shimmies and lightning footwork before stroking the ball past goalkeeper Milan Borjan.
Roared on by a 55,000 home crowd, Red Star came out with renewed purpose in the second half and came close through El Fardou Ben Nabouhane before Gobeljic’s delightful volley.
But PSG put the game beyond Red Star’s reach with two more goals in the closing stages as the home side ran out of steam.
Marquinhos buried a header past Borjan in the 74th minute after Angel Di Maria swung in an inch-perfect free kick, and Mbappe completed the rout with a clinical stoppage-time strike to finish off another fast break by the visitors.
Despite crashing out of European competition, 1991 European Cup winners Red Star received a standing ovation from their die-hard supporters on the final whistle after several spirited performances in their maiden Champions League campaign.
(Reporting by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Hugh Lawson)