Magnificent Mbappe leads wasteful PSG past weary Real Madrid in UEFA Champions League opener

Substitute Neymar teed the French superstar up for the first leg lead as Nuno Mendes catches eye

PARIS — Paris Saint-Germain drew first blood in their UEFA Champions League round of 16 first-leg clash with Real Madrid on Tuesday thanks to Kylian Mbappe’s late winner at Parc des Princes with just seconds remaining on the clock.

Just when it looked as if the victory had slipped away from Mauricio Pochettino’s men when Thibaut Courtois saved Lionel Messi’s penalty, substitute Neymar teed the French superstar up for a dramatic late strike which puts Les Parisiens in the driving seat ahead of the Madrid return.

Overall, PSG were good value for their success too on an evening when the Ligue 1 leaders created chance after chance only to find an inspired Belgium international between the sticks for Real or a wasteful Angel Di Maria in the first half.

Mbappe was a constant menace to the Spanish defense with Dani Carvajal taking a savage beating at the hands of the 23-year-old and the excellent Nuno Mendes when he pushed forward from left-back to support the attack.

Pochettino sent his side out with purpose and their first-half press was surprisingly good considering how pedestrian many of their domestic performances have been so far this season, but with Danilo Pereira and Leandro Paredes disrupting from midfield, PSG’s creators were able wreak havoc.

For as much as Mbappe, Messi, Di Maria, Mendes, Achraf Hakimi and Marco Verratti were able to create, though, it looked as if the goal was not going to come, and that Carlo Ancelotti’s goalless game plan was going to come off — until the buzzer beater.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man: Mbappe delivered in the decisive way that the pre-match hype had made inevitable given the tug-of-war between the two clubs over his future and PSG can now boast an efficient 1-0 lead ahead of the Santiago Bernabeu return.

“We wanted to be ready for this big European night,” said Mbappe after the final whistle. “These are the matches that we all dream of playing in. We wanted to win it and the fans pushed us.”

His 93rd-minute winner was the latest goal for PSG in the Champions League since April 2013 when Blaise Matuidi (93 minutes and 44 seconds) scored against Barcelona, according to Opta. Seven of Mbappe’s last 12 goals scored in competitions have come in the second half, including a stoppage-time winner against Stade Rennais over the weekend.

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There is still work to be done in Spain and the French capital outfit will need to be as good, if not better, but they raised their game when it mattered and proved that this group of players should not be discounted from Champions League contention.

Real barely mustered an attempt on goal and while PSG were wasteful, they created in abundance while their opponents appeared tired and every bit a team built around veterans and ageing stars who have seen their best days.

Plenty can change between now and the second leg, but this is a great opportunity for Pochettino and his players to go to Madrid and produce the same sort of performance which we saw last campaign when Barcelona were blown away at Camp Nou.

The speculation surrounding Mbappe and his future will not go away but this result proved his value to his current employers and his potential value to his long-term suitors — that will not change until he takes a definitive decision on his next step.

“I want to focus on my football,” he said. “There are lots of things being said. Everyone knows a bit of everything and talks for nothing. I was focused on helping the team and I am really focused and happy with PSG. It did not take a game against Real for me to know that I am in one of the best teams in the world.”

Now PSG must prepare for the return leg (March 9 | CBS and Paramount+) with half of the job done but an improved Real side no doubt awaiting them next month when they look to book their quarterfinal berth with Mbappe primed to put in another statement performance.

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