In the first-half Zinedine Zidane wrapped his arms around Kylian Mbappé as the forward ran into the technical area and did not look like he wanted to let go. Having already spoken of how he “loves” the Paris Saint-Germain striker, and clearly wants to bring him to the Bernabéu, the Real Madrid coach will have wished he kept his grip as Mbappé eventually inspired the most unlikely of comebacks after his side had been utterly dominated.
Two Karim Benzema goals – and a superb performance from Eden Hazard, his best since joining Real from Chelsea in the summer – were cancelled out as Mbappé struck his 70th goal in precisely 100 appearances for PSG to give the French champions hope when hope there was none. Three minutes later they were level and had won their Champions League group with Mbappé almost winning it as he struck the side-netting in injury-time.
It felt it would be Hazard’s night, before he was substituted after suffering a worrying ankle injury, with Zidane hailing his performance as “amazing” and it also could have belonged to the man who replaced him, Gareth Bale. Hazard was given an ovation as he limped off and Bale was afforded one also as he came on and, with almost the last action, bent a superb free-kick that cannoned back off the post from 25 yards.
It was a far cry for Bale from the stupid jeers and whistles and nonsense over the flag during the celebrations after Wales qualified for Euro 2020. Nevertheless it is no leap to suggest that Zidane would like to replace him with Mbappé who, still just 20, has now scored away in European competitions at Real, both Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Juventus and Bayern Munich. And to think he was far from his best. “It is his job. He had to score and he did that. There’s nothing else to say,” said a rueful Zidane afterwards who expressed his concern over the injury to Hazard who lit up this tie and even managed to nutmeg the referee, Artur Dias, in the middle of one of his thrilling runs - which ended with Benzema’s first goal.
Meanwhile PSG coach Thomas Tuchel did not start with Neymar, which always causes a fuss, but he came on at half-time to play in midfield.
“No, I’m not afraid of that,” Tuchel said when asked whether leaving out Neymar was the kind of decision that could lead the Brazilian to – again – wanting out. “I don’t think we are going to lose Neymar. He’s been absent for six weeks and only played one match before this and it was not necessary to take this risk. We don’t want him injured.”
That Real, who produced their best display since winning the Champions League in 2017, did not collect all three points was astonishing and owed much to a brilliant display by their former goalkeeper Keylor Navas who was last off the pitch as he acknowledged the home fans. He remains a popular figure at Real despite thwarting Toni Kroos, Marcelo, Dani Carvajal, Isco and Benzema. It went on and on.
In the other goal it was not a great evening for Thibaut Courtois who was shown a red card and appeared to concede a penalty, after rushing from his goal to bring down Mauro Icardi, but was reprieved when both decisions were over-turned after a VAR intervention for what appeared a marginal foul by Idrissa Gueye. After that Courtois was tentative and was at fault with Raphaël Varane as they allowed a cross to reach Mbappé who bundled it home from close-range.
Before the goal Real had been dominant. They were in Kroos control with the German running midfield and Hazard creating panic. Benzema’s first goal came after he steered in a rebound when a shot by Isco, a surprise inclusion and apparently for sale, came back off the post. His second arrived in the second-half when he met a Marcelo cross to head home and it took his Champions League total to 64 – with only three players having scored more in the competition’s history.
Surely that, and Hazard, would be the story? But it all changed with Mbappé’s predatory intervention with Neymar then dribbling forward to find Juan Bernat. Mbappé cleverly stepped over his cross and Neymar also let it run to substitute Pablo Sarabia who fired it first time high into the roof of the net.
“They played like a team who won the Champions League four times in five years,” Tuchel said of Real. Remarkably they did. But PSG have Mbappé. For now at least.