PARIS (AP) — After teammate Lionel Messi missed a penalty, Kylian Mbappe saved his team again by scoring a brilliant solo goal deep into stoppage time as Paris Saint-Germain beat Real Madrid 1-0 in their Champions League last-16 match on Tuesday.
Mbappe has rescued PSG many times with late goals in the French league this season — as recently as last Friday — and he did so again on the biggest stage.
After taking a back-heeled pass from substitute Neymar in the fourth and final minute of stoppage time of the first leg, Mbappe cut inside two players down the left and shot the ball between the legs of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
“I got free and then it’s a one on one. The forward is always the master of the penalty area when the defenders start backing off,” Mbappe said. “I decided where I wanted to go.”
Mbappe does not expect his team to sit back and defend in the return leg, as Madrid mostly did in Paris and got punished.
“You have to keep playing,” he said. “We’ll have to do the same in the return leg. We’ll go there to win.”
Although it was a great finish, the sudden attack happened because Madrid somehow gave the ball away under no pressure in midfield instead of clearing it easily wide or long.
“We lost a stupid ball, Mbappe skips by two and manages to get the ball under me,” Courtois said. “It’s tough to take but we didn’t play well.”
He certainly did, however.
Courtois had played the starring role, denying Mbappe early in each half and then stopping record seven-time Golden Ball winner Messi’s penalty in the 61st minute. It was awarded after Mbappe was fouled by right back Dani Carvajal.
Courtois guessed correctly and dived to his left for a fine stop.
“I’d studied Messi’s penalties a lot and I tried to play with him when I was on the line,” Courtois said. “You’ve also got to have that little bit of luck.”
Messi scored 26 goals and delivered 14 assists in 45 games against Madrid during his glory era with Barcelona, but did not find the net in several games before joining PSG last summer.
PSG threw on Neymar for the last 20 minutes as the Brazil standout made his return from a sprained ankle, while Madrid’s star forward Karim Benzema shook off a hamstring injury and faced ex-club rival Messi and France teammate Mbappe.
Mbappe is out of contract at the end of the season and remains heavily linked with a move to Madrid, which had an offer of 180 million euros ($204 million) rejected by PSG last summer.
Now the Spanish giant might get arguably the world’s most dangerous striker for free, although Mbappe pushed back on talk of a move.
“First of all I wanted to think about my game, many things are said but the truth is that I’m focused,” Mbappe said. “I give everything and it shows through my actions.”
The subplots were in place but the first half did not live up to the hype, save for a few flashes of skill from Mbappe.
The second started better as Courtois produced a superb one-handed save low to his right to deny Mbappe, who was set up by right back Achraf Hakimi’s astute quick pass.
PSG has never won the competition while record 13-time champion Madrid hasn’t reached the final since completing a straight hat trick of European Cups in 2018.
“We are confident and we’ll be at home,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said of the second leg. “The crowd will get behind us.”
He accepted that Mauricio Pochettino’s hard-working PSG TEAM closed down space well.
“We couldn’t get out with the ball and we misplaced a lot of passes because of their high press,” he said. “We need to be better on the ball.”
Ancelotti faced the side he once coached, hired near the start of the club’s Qatari-backed takeover as the big name to achieve Champions League glory.
Despite huge investment and a constant chasing of stars over the years, that major trophy still eludes ambitious PSG — the 2020 runner-up to Bayern Munich.
This is the first season in 57 years that the away-goals rule — a way of deciding two-legged matches in European club competitions if necessary — is not being used.
Somewhat unlucky, then, for Manchester City as last season’s runner-up won 5-0 at Portuguese club Sporting.
The return legs are on March 9, but Madrid midfielder Casemiro is suspended after picking up a yellow card late in the first half.
PSG started strongly and Mbappe’s fifth-minute cross from the left was blazed over by Angel Di Maria.
The elusive Mbappe kept getting behind the defense down the left, and in the 17th he latched onto Messi’s pass but Courtois saved smartly from close range.
In the end, his tenacity and belief made the difference.
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