After a night of frustrating misses, Neymar finally found a way to come through for Paris Saint-Germain.
The world’s most expensive player helped set up two late goals as PSG staged a stoppage-time comeback to beat Atalanta 2-1 on Wednesday in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Relief for the Brazilian, who has often been criticised for failing to lead the big-spending French club to Europe’s most coveted trophy.
Agony for Atalanta, who had been so close to reaching the semi-finals in a remarkable Champions League debut season.
The Italian club on a modest budget led through Mario Pasalic’s curling strike in the 27th minute.
But Neymar set up Marquinhos for the 90th-minute equaliser and was involved in the build-up to Eric Choupo-Moting’s winner in the third minute of stoppage time.
That goal meant PSG returned to the last four of European football’s elite after a 25-year absence.
“I never thought we’d be back home tomorrow,” Neymar said. “At every moment, we just went for one thing: progress to the last four.”
The substitutes helped transform PSG’s fortunes – first with Kylian Mbappe’s arrival with 30 minutes remaining and then Choupo-Moting 20 minutes later.
“When I came on I thought I can’t lose,” said Choupo-Moting, whose high, diagonal pass reached Neymar on the left flank in the 90th minute. The Brazilian’s scuffed shot was turned in by Marquinhos.
Atalanta was stunned, PSG re-energised.
It was another run by Neymar that unpicked a tiring Atalanta before feeding Mbappe, who squared across for Choupo-Moting to slide the ball over the line.
It was a painful collapse for Atalanta, ending an improbable run in a season when the team’s home city of Bergamo had been among the hardest hit regions of Europe from the coronavirus.
The lack of access to the stadium could not deter Atalanta fans flying from northern Italy to the Portuguese capital, even if it was just to cheer for the fleeting moments when the team bus passed beneath them.
They will have another chance next season. A second consecutive third-place finish in Serie A gives Atalanta a return ticket the Champions League.
“At this moment, it’s quite painful,” said Atalanta midfielder Marten de Roon. “Tomorrow, I will be proud of our team and club but at this moment I feel disappointment. ”
Cameroon international Choupo-Moting came on to replace the struggling Mauro Icardi, who managed just a single off-target shot.
At least Neymar was getting in sight of goal more often, but scuffed several good chances in the first half – including a glaring miss in the third minute.
Mbappe was only introduced for the final half hour, but still his partnership with Neymar was influential in creating the goals that kept PSG on course for a first European Cup to add to this season’s domestic trophies.
“We’ve already won four titles this season but the most important is this one,” Choupo-Moting said.