Mazeed Mukhtar Oyeleye writes,

Wednesday, September 14 2022, saw Paris Saint Germain play on foreign soil in a UEFA Champions League group stage encounter against Maccabi Haifa. 

Comments like “RIP Maccabi Haifa”, “I pity Maccabi Haifa”, and “Our prayers are with Maccabi Haifa”, and outrageous predictions like “Maccabi 0:40 PSG” and “PSG 24-0 Maccabi” were some of the reactions of fans ahead of the UCL fixture.

Football fans expected the French giants to demolish the Israeli club on the home ground in Haifa, and the star-studded team didn’t disappoint. However, it wasn’t the usual easy breezy win.

The home fans went agog at the 24th minute. Suriname international, Tjaron Chery, controlled Dolev Haziza’s cross deftly into the goal with his dominant left foot, tilting the scoreline in the Haifa club’s favour. The opener was a double treat for the fans. The goal is their first UCL group stage goal since one against Olympiakos in November 2002, scored by Yaniv Katan, an Israeli international who played his entire professional career in Haifa colours (except a dreadful 2006 with English side West Ham United) before retiring in 2014.

The opener sent shivers down the spine of Cristophe Galtier’s side. Fans and pundits feared the match could end like the last meeting between both sides in October 1998, when the Israeli club knocked PSG out of the UEFA Cup WInners’ Cup (now UEFA Champions League) round of 32 with a second leg 3:2 win after a first leg one-square draw.

It took half as much time for PSG to even the scoreline. Kylian Mbappé’s shot deflected off Haifa’s Dylan Batubinsika, finding Lionel Messi in a comfortable position. The seven-time Ballon D’Or winner didn’t think twice before sliding it down the bottom right corner with a dominant left foot. This goal restored the Parisians’ confidence and helped Lionel Messi clinch two records.

By providing PSG’s opener, Messi became the first player to score in 18 consecutive UCL campaigns, followed closely by the 2022 Ballon D’Or favourite, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, at 17, and Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo at 16.

The Argentine talisman also became the player to have scored against the most clubs in the UCL, topping the list with 39 opponents, having failed to score against only five teams in his UCL career. This feat sets him clear of his arch-rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, who remains at 38, with no chance of a comeback with Manchester United this season as the English Champions are testing their fortunes with the Europa League.

PSG’s efforts to build on Messi’s record-clinching goal proved futile until halftime.

The play resumed with as much intensity as the first half. However, neither of the sides found the net until Lionel Messi slid in a pass to the French maestro, Kylian Mbappé. The striker, notable for his enviable finishing prowess, sent the ball down the bottom right corner and echoes of the shout ‘goal’ erupted from the nooks and corners of the Sammy Ofer Stadium. Way to complete a comeback! However, there was more to it.

Mbappé’s ‘calm as you like’ goal brought his UCL goal tally for PSG to 30, putting him level with Edinson Cavani (in 54 appearances) as the all-time top UCL goalscorer for the French club in 8 fewer appearances.

Maccabi Haifa struggled to return level with PSG without success. Neymar Jr, who has been in outstanding form, dashed their hopes of clinching their first win in the UCL since thrashing Manchester United three-nil in October 2002. Thanks to a defensive error by the Haifa team, an inch-perfect cross from Marco Veratti found the Brazilian superstar in a good position. He shook off his assailants with his pace and punished the goalie from the penalty spot, sliding the ball down the middle.

The 88th-minute wonder goal sealed Maccabi Haifa’s fate and cemented their throne at the bottom of the UCL group H table after losing their opening game two-nil to Portugal’s SL Benfica. But that was not all there was to the goal. It marked the first UCL match in which every one of PSG’s attacking trident, Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr and Kylian Mbappé would score, hitting the books as the fifth record the match would see.

The match continued with PSG looking to grab another goal whilst their opponents struggled to claim a consolation goal. Eventually, the game ended with neither side achieving its goal.

“Messi, Mbappé, Neymar on the score sheet and the whole world is happy,” Rahul Mohamed, an Algerian Facebook user, expressed his pleasure over the results of the match.

Kelly Sabit, a South Sudanese, was so happy that he tipped the French giants for victory in the ongoing UCL campaign.

“We all know PSG will be champion league winners,” were his words, reacting to the results.

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