Manchester United have produced an historic comeback to seal their place in the quarterfinals of the Champions League at the expense of Paris Saint-Germain in the most dramatic of circumstances on Wednesday.
The Red Devils were left with a mountain to climb after losing the home first leg 0-2 last month – a position from which no side had ever recovered in Champions League or European Cup history.
However, Marcus Rashford scored a 94th minute penalty – controversially awarded for handball against Presnel Kimpembe after a lengthy VAR review – to seal one of United’s greatest ever European nights as they secured an away-goals victory with a 3-1 triumph at the Parc des Princes.
Romelu Lukaku had earlier opened the scoring after only two minutes and then restored that lead before half time following Juan Bernat’s equaliser, with both goals being gifted to him by PSG errors.
However, the headlines will belong to Rashford as he kept his nerve with his first ever penalty for the club to spark wild scenes of celebration on an unforgettable evening in Paris.
United arrived in the French capital without 10 first-team players – nine of whom were injured in addition to the suspended Paul Pogba – but it took Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s depleted squad less than two minutes to break the deadlock.
Thilo Kehrer’s careless back-pass sent Lukaku clean through on goal, and the in-form Belgian held off the challenge of Thiago Silva before rounding Gianluigi Buffon and sliding the ball into the empty net, setting the tone for what was to come.
It was a dream start to what had been dubbed “Mission Impossible” against one of the Champions League favourites, but PSG did soon settle into the game after their sluggish opening and fired a first warning shot when Angel Di Maria’s low cross into the box was just too far in front of Kylian Mbappe.
Having overcome the initial shock of conceding so early, the hosts began to look dangerous almost every time they came forward and they equalised on the night just 10 minutes after falling behind when Juan Bernat took advantage of some lax marking from Eric Bailly.
Mbappe was the provider as he squeezed a low pass across the face of goal, where Bernat was waiting unmarked at the back post to tap into an empty net and restore PSG’s two-goal aggregate advantage.
Bailly’s struggles to cope in an unfamiliar right-back position proved to be a feature of the opening 30 minutes as PSG continuously exposed the United defender, and that almost led to a second goal in as many minutes when Di Maria clipped a cross to Alves, who could only slice his volley well off target.
There was the odd threat from the opposite flank too, with Mbappe slamming an effort into the side-netting, but the majority of the PSG attacks came down the left and Bailly was again AWOL when Di Maria picked out Bernat in the box after 20 minutes, only for the goalscorer to be denied a second when he fired his shot straight at David de Gea.
The dangerous Di Maria then lashed a sweetly-struck effort of his own narrowly wide of the far post from 25 yards before making a mockery of Bailly once again by beating him three times and delivering a cross which Alves could not connect with.
It looked like a matter of time before PSG would increase their aggregate lead, but they were also looking shaky in defence and gifted United a second goal against the run of play on the half-hour mark as the visitors’ hopes were revived once more.
This time the mistake came from the unlikely source of Gianluigi Buffon, who spilled Rashford’s dipping strike at the feet of Lukaku to leave the United striker with a simple finish on the rebound.
PSG boasted 81% possession at the time United’s second goal went in, but they were unable to rediscover that level of dominance again afterwards thanks largely to Solskjaer withdrawing Bailly nine minutes before half time – a decision enforced by injury but one which may have been made for tactical reasons anyway given the defender’s struggles.
Bailly’s replacement Diogo Dalot almost forced an own goal shortly before half time when he skipped past his marker too easily before cutting the ball back into the box, but Buffon got down to save the ricochet after it had come off the boot of a PSG defender.
United went into the break ahead on the night but still needing a goal to go through on aggregate, and it looked as though their task had become harder once again when Di Maria latched on to a sublime flick from Mbappe before lifting a delicate finish over De Gea 11 minutes into the second half, but the offside flag cut his celebrations short.
Di Maria then drew a routine stop from De Gea as United contented themselves with playing on the break, but PSG’s play lacked the intensity which the tight nature of the scenario merited.
That said, the hosts did come within inches of killing the tie off just seven minutes before the end of normal time when Mbappe found himself clean through on goal, but the attacker lost his footing when trying to take the ball around De Gea and Bernat could only hit the foot of the post with his follow-up effort.
United’s hopes were rapidly fading away when Dalot tried his luck with a speculative effort from range in the penultimate minute, with his strike hitting Kimpembe and deflecting behind for a corner.
Dalot was the only player appealing for handball following the at-first innocuous incident, but with United ready to take the resulting corner referee Damir Skomina stopped play to check the VAR monitor over suggestions of a handball.
Replays showed that the ball did indeed strike the arm of Kimpembe – albeit as the defender was jumping with his back to it – and after a lengthy delay Skomina controversially pointed to the spot to hand United a priceless lifeline.
Rashford took the responsibility on his young shoulders and made no mistake by blasting the ball past Buffon from 12 yards, sparking scenes of jubilation amongst the visitors as they celebrated an incredible turnaround.
There were still six extra minutes of stoppage time to negotiate, but PSG could not find an even later winner as United held on for a famous result on what will go down as one of the club’s greatest ever European nights.