City won 2-0 to knock out last season’s finalists 4-1 on aggregate.
By the time Riyad Mahrez finished the counterattack that sealed Manchester City’s place in a Champions League debut final, it seemed so easy to get over a Paris Saint-Germain formation who lost their temper and his cool.
“Then they lost their temper and started kicking us and that was good,” said Mahrez.
It was the Paris-born winger who scored twice before PSG had Angel Di Maria sent off. City won 2-0 to knock out last season’s finalists 4-1 overall on Tuesday.
“They had the red card,” said Mahrez, “and then it was more comfortable for us.”
It has been anything but comfortable for City to have a chance to win the top prize in European football for the first time despite 13 years of lavish investment. Even reaching that semi-final required a court brawl to overturn a ban from this season’s Champions League for violating UEFA’s financial rules.
And it’s only been two weeks since the Abu Dhabi-owned side faced further sanctions for joining a brief and unfortunate attempt to go their separate ways to help form a breakaway European Super League.
Now City could win the competition they were trying to leave in what could be an all-English final on May 29 in Istanbul if Chelsea beat Real Madrid on Wednesday. Chelsea and Madrid drew 1-1 in the first leg.
“Of course we have invested money in the last decade since Sheikh Mansour took over the club, but it’s not just about that,” city manager Pep Guardiola said. “If you want to think it’s all about the money, that’s fine. But there are a lot of amazing things behind the scenes.
It wasn’t just City who endured the frustration in their quest for the biggest prize in European football. Guardiola, Champions League winner as Barcelona coach in 2009 and 2011, has been waiting a decade to return to the final. He failed three times with Bayern Munich and took until his fifth season at City to reach the semi-finals.
“Reaching the Champions League final is so difficult,” Guardiola said. “It’s the hardest part, but we did it.”
City are now used to success – sitting on the brink of their third Premier League title in four seasons having already won the League Cup last month. But his only continental title came with the now defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970.
“This club needed the final, these players needed the final,” said city defender Kyle Walker. “For these players, not being in the Champions League final is a disappointment every year.”
PSG missed a second chance to win a first European Cup after losing last season’s final to Bayern Munich, and Mauricio Pochettino’s side are even struggling to defend the French title.
“Disappointed and very sad,” said Pochettino, who lost the 2019 Champions League final as Tottenham coach. “We played well but we didn’t have the luck you need in football.”
And in the shock of the big spenders of European football financed by the Gulf, it was the Qatari visitors from Paris who quickly found themselves in Manchester.
After scoring the winner for City in Paris last week, Mahrez only took 11 minutes to score in the second leg. The movement started with a long ball from defender Oleksandr Zinchenko on a long ball from goalkeeper Ederson.
“It’s something that we work on all the time,” said Mahrez, “and today it has worked well.”
Zinchenko passed to Kevin De Bruyne, whose shot was blocked by Keylor Navas but Mahrez was attentive to the rebound to put the ball between the keeper’s legs on a pitch covered in the remnants of a spring hailstorm.
Mauro Icardi proved ineffective in a PSG attack rid of Kylian Mbappé, who was not fit enough to start and was never entrusted with being deployed from the bench.
There were headers from Marquinhos and Neymar, but PSG couldn’t find any way past a defense that had Rúben Dias proving such a robust barrier.
The back line of PSG was easier to cross, which happened again in the 63rd minute. There was a sweeping run down the left flank by Phil Foden before a combination with De Bruyne and a delivered cross for Mahrez to sweep into the net.
“We fought to the end,” said PSG midfielder Marco Verratti. “When you play against big teams, it’s impossible to attack for 90 minutes without suffering. We have to accept this.
PSG’s frustrations were clear even without any crowds to create an intimidating atmosphere. The visitors ended the game with 10 men as in the first leg after Di Maria was sent off with 20 minutes left for Fernandinho.
PSG have turned on the referee, with midfielder Ander Herrera in a post-match interview accusing Bjorn Kuipers of directing a curse on his PSG teammate Leandro Paredes. This was not heard by Pochettino.
“Maybe UEFA will investigate the situation,” he said. “But now I think that’s no excuse.”