The Auteuil Curve was in fine form last week as Paris Saint-Germain lined out against Olympique Marseille for the “classique” or derby of France’s Ligue 1.
Sheets in glittery red and gold covered the railing of the preferred stand of PSG ultras. Boos rang out as the presenter announced the names of the Marseille line-up. Cheers followed for the PSG players - including Brazilian Neymar, the star striker that the club brought from Barcelona for a record-breaking $273mn transfer fee last August.
Neymar’s relationship with the Curve hasn’t always been so positive - he got boos himself in January when he pulled rank to take a penalty shot fans thought should have gone to Edinson Cavani, during an 8-0 victory against Dijon where the Brazilian scored half the goals.
There has been something of a mending of fences since then, with the Curve unfolding two somewhat apologetic banners at the following match against EA Guingamp. “Booing our players is the opposite of our values,” one read.
The game on Sunday February 25 looked like a fairly uneventful victory for the Parisians, 3-0 up from the 55th minute. Neymar didn’t score this time, but he put in a creditable performance as well as a couple of fumbles in the first half. Then something went wrong that overshadowed the scoreline.
Neymar, who had been contesting a ball on the left side of the pitch, stumbled and fell, then remained down for several minutes as players gathered around. He was stretchered off the pitch in the 80th minute. And immediately thoughts turned to a more important fixture - Paris Saint-Germain’s home leg against Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League. It’s a critical game for the French club, which has never yet gone beyond the quarter-finals in the European contest.
They are trailing 3-1 after a February 14 away leg dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo rather than Neymar, who has now undergone surgery on a right foot fracture and is facing a long spell on the sidelines. When he presented Neymar to media last August, club president Nasser al-Khelaifi spoke of his ambitions for the Champions League.
“Our aim is to win the Champions League, it’s always there,” he said. “We can’t say that this year we’re going to win the Champions League. We’re going to fight for it to be sure.”
But crashing out without even getting to the final eight would be an embarrassment for the team. Al-Khelaifi made every effort to look on the bright side.
“We always believe. If not, why play?” he said. “I am very confident about this match. Really, we have a team ready for Real Madrid or another club.” We will know shortly.
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