By Mitch Phillips
PARIS (Reuters) – Manchester United pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history as Marcus Rashford’s last-gasp VAR penalty sealed a 3-1 win at Paris St Germain on Wednesday and sent the English side into the quarter-finals on away goals.
Never in 106 attempts in Europe’s premium club competition had a team progressed in a knockout tie after a 2-0 home defeat, but Rashford’s stoppage-time penalty – the first he had taken for the club – put Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side through in the most dramatic fashion as the tie finished level at 3-3.
The result came 20 years after Solskjaer wrote his name into the club’s folklore by scoring the injury-time winner in the final victory over Bayern Munich to complete the treble of Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup.
Now back as caretaker manager after the dismissal of Jose Mourinho, the Norwegian has overseen a remarkable turnaround as United have won 14 of 17 games in all competitions and hauled themselves back into the top-four battle in the Premier League.
Progress in Europe looked a step too far, though, after United were outplayed by PSG at Old Trafford and arrived in Paris short of a host of key players through suspension and injury.
However, with Alex Ferguson watching proudly from the stands, Solksjaer’s team achieved what no other has managed in the competition – as well as making himself the shortest of odds to fill the biggest seat in English football on a permanent basis at the end of the season.
“It’s this club. It’s what we do, that’s Man United, that’s the Champions League, it’s what it does.”“ said Solskjaer, who was managing Norwegian club Molde before getting the call to replace Mourinho in December.
“It’s a typical Manchester United night. We had a game plan and the belief in the boys was what we hoped for. Everyone shares a huge pride. The players were focussed, they listened to all the instructions and they knew that we had to defend well. There was a lot of quality.”
While United march on, PSG are left to wonder how, yet again, they have failed in Europe despite spending millions to put together a team that crushes all domestic opposition.
They had lost only two of their last 50 European games at the Parc des Princes but have still yet to reach even the semi-finals of the Champions League.
“The plan was to get the first goal, be in the game with 10 minutes to go,” Solskjaer said and he could not have scripted it any better as Romelu Lukaku intercepted a weak back pass from Thilo Kehrer, rounded Gianluigi Buffon and slid the ball into the empty net after two minutes.
PSG dominated possession, though, and with United’s defence all over the place, it was no surprise when Juan Bernat knocked in Kylian Mbappe’s cross to level after 12 minutes.
The hosts continued to control the game but United took the advantage again with their next chance when Buffon failed to deal with a fierce, low Rashford shot and Lukaku poked home the rebound late in the first half.
PSG, with injured Brazil striker Neymar watching from the stands, had all the ball in the second half without ever looking very threatening and seemingly settling for their 3-2 aggregate lead, while United were disciplined and tireless in defence.
The visitors started to press forward in the final 10 minutes, with little joy, until Diogo Dalot fired in a speculative long-range shot that was blocked by the leaping Presnel Kimpembe.
Nobody except Dalot seemed to notice the handball but the referee called for a review and pictures showed that the ball hit the back of Kimpembe’s arm as he jumped.
Alter a lengthy wait, the penalty was awarded.
England striker Rashford, who had never taken a penalty in a competitive game for United, kept his nerve during the long delay to smash it past Buffon.
PSG desperately pushed for the goal that would have sent them through in a further four minutes of play but United held firm and celebrated wildly with their fans when the whistle sounded.
In contrast, the stunned home players sunk to the ground in disbelief at a near-silent stadium.
“It is very hard to lose, very hard to accept,” said PSG coach Thomas Tuchel, the latest to fail to deliver the European glory the club’s Qatari owners have invested so much to achieve.
“If you lose a game like this it’s horrible and cruel because we did not deserve to go out after those 180 minutes.”
(Reporting by Julien Pretot, additional reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond)