Paris Saint-Germain are hoping to become a major force in European play thanks to a huge injection of cash, but despite their success in the group stages and their second-round victory against Valencia, it's clear that there's much work to be done for Carlo Ancelotti's side. Their 2-2 draw at home against Barcelona leaves the Ligue 1 outfit with only a small chance of making it into the Champions League semifinals.
At least they showed some real fight in the process. If Barcelona was expecting a walk in the Parc des Princes, the hosts quickly showed them their error. Javier Pastor and Ezequiel Lavezzi combined brilliantly in Victor Valdes' box, and the latter deked his way past Gerard Pique and forced an intervention from Sergio Busquets.
It wasn't an entirely successful one -- the midfielder managed to poke the ball off Lavezzi's feet, but he was off balance when he tried to make the tackle and ended up prodding it past his own goalkeeper and in off the far post. Only a lucky bounce prevented Pastore from slotting the rebound into an empty net.
PSG continued to make real inroads into the Barcelona half. David Beckham sent in a couple of dangerous set pieces before Pastore drew a vital save from Valdes with a snapshot at the near post, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic forced an even better one after Pique gave up a silly free kick near the edge of the box.
That's not to say it was all going the home side's way. David Villa had already come within inches of latching onto an incisive Andres Iniesta through ball, and a curler from the same source save Salvatore Sirigu a scare, but didn't have enough bend to sneak in at the far post.
Slowly, the Blaugrana began to turn their possession into real pressure. In the early going, they were being bogged down in midfield, but as the halftime whistle grew closer both Thiago Silva and Alex were called into action more often. That suited PSG fine, of course -- they would have been planning to hit their guests on the break from the beginning, and nearly opened the scoring when Lucas Moura sprinted clear and fed Ibrahimovic -- but letting Barcelona come at you is courting disaster.
Disaster came in the 38th minute, and it came in the shape of Lionel Messi. A Barcelona corner was only partially cleared, and Dani Alves sent it back into the mix with a sumptuous outside of the boot pass. PSG's defense was trying to push out and managed to completely forget where Messi was.
That tends not to be a good idea. In a flash, the Argentine was onto the pass, and his volleyed finish stayed low, beat Sirigu, and nestled in the far corner. Barcelona had their lead, and an away goal to boot.
The Messi Show didn't stop with the goal, and he very nearly doubled the lead five minutes later with a curler from the top of the box that Sirigu was relieved to see spin just over the crossbar. But just when it looked as though the world's best player would take complete control of the match, it became apparent that there was something wrong.
For Barcelona fans (and football fans in general, come to think of it), seeing Messi hobbling around clutching his hamstring is the stuff of nightmares. Yet that's exactly how the half closed out, and despite soldiering on until the interval, Mr. Ballon d'Or didn't manage to make it back out of the changing rooms for the second half. Cesc Fabregas was the man to take his place.
PSG would have been relieved that the visitors' greatest weapon was off the pitch, but they still needed multiple goals in the second half if they were to have any hope at all of advancing to the semifinals. They obviously realised that, taking advantage of Messi's absence by committing themselves more fully to the attack after the break.
Javier Mascherano was perhaps lucky to get away with a foul on Blaise Matuidi at the top of Valdes' box and minutes later Pique just about managed to scramble the ball away from Ibrahimovic as the Swede prepared to pull the trigger. Pique came to the rescue again after Ibrahimovic played in Matuidi, the implausibly dextrous pass drawing an acrobatic clearance from the big centre half.
Barcelona got their chances too, and Alexis Sanchez ought to have doubled their lead in the 63rd minute. Dani Alves led a foray down the right flank and spotted the Chilean unmarked in the box. His cross was perfect, but Sanchez's touch was not, and somehow he gave Alex enough time to make a challenge and scramble the ball away. A few minutes later Sanchez lifted the ball straight into Sirigu's hands under similar circumstances.
PSG was fortunate not to be further behind, but unless they scored it wasn't going to matter, and they were getting frustrated. Both Beckham and Matuidi picked up bookings after the hour mark, with the later ruled out of the return leg at the Camp Nou as a result. Carlo Ancelotti responded with two substitutions, bringing off Beckham for Marco Veratti and removing Lavezzi for Jeremy Menez.
Veratti's appearance did seem to inject some vim into the hosts' play, and within a few seconds after his introduction, Maxwell had drawn a save out of Valdes (although he probably shouldn't have taken the shot in the first place). Further good news followed when Mascherano picked up a yellow card -- and therefore a suspension -- for a foul on Menez.
Ibrahimovic should have leveled after a collision between Jordi Alba and Mascherano left him clear only to thump his first-time shot straight into Valdes' midriff, but the big Swede made up for it in short order. A free kick came in, Thiago Silva thumped a header off the near post, and a suspiciously offside Ibrahimovic swept in the rebound. Game on.
Mascherano ended up being stretchered off shortly after the equalizer, his knee having suffered a deep cut from the collision with Alba, and that will only have given the hosts more belief that they could score again to give them a historic home victory. Kevin Gameiro -- another of Ancelotti's subs -- came close to providing that goal after being fed by a quite brilliant header by Ibrahimovic, but the ball didn't sit down for him and Alves was able to clear.
And then, just as PSG looked ascendant, they shot themselves in the foot. Lucas Moura lost the ball to a combination of Pique and Iniesta, and eventually the counterattack fell to Sanchez's feet. Which Sirigu grabbed for a clear penalty. With Messi out, responsibility fell to Xavi, who sent the keeper the wrong way to make it 2-1 with 90 minutes elapsed.
It was an unfortunate goal to concede, especially with so little time left. Ibrahimovic looked to have made an instant reply, but his rocket past Valdes was ruled out for offside. It looked for all the world as though 2-1 would be the final score, only for Matuidi to draw PSG level with the last kick of the game.
The goal was simple enough. A long pass found Cristophe Jallet on the right wing, his cross was nodded back by Ibrahimovic, and Matuidi met it with a low volley from 18 yards. Valdes would have had it covered were it not for an unfortunate deflection off Marc Bartra, who was on because of the injury to Mascherano. And just like that, the match was over. At 2-2, PSG is not out of this tie.