As a statement of intent, they did not convince. But as a matter of necessity, they got the job done.
Paris Saint-Germain, playing without star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, stayed alive in the UEFA Champions League with a 1-1 draw at home to Valencia on Wednesday night. With a 3-2 aggregate victory over two legs in the Round of 16, the nouveau-riche Parisiens advanced to the quarterfinals and claimed a place in Europe's de facto elite eight.
But don't be fooled. In this case, facts aren't necessarily facts, and PSG aren't there yet.
If the aim of the current campaign has always been a statement of European intent—and manager Carlo Ancelotti's recent claims would suggest that's so—then Wednesday's result at the Parc des Princes must be considered, on balance, a net positive. Yet negatives abounded.
This was no dominant performance against an overmatched opponent on home soil. Nor will a 3-2 aggregate victory over Spain's fifth-best team cause Europe's best to quiver with fear.
Fact is, as the Champions League's eight quarterfinalists continue to queue up, PSG can hardly claim a place among the favorites, nor even the role of unheralded spoilers. That's not to say success is impossible—only that on current evidence, it seems improbable.
Ancelotti made headlines—and likely stoked resentment—last week with a claim that PSG have been constructed for elite European competition, rather than domestic domination (via The Independent). It mattered little that those words came after PSG had lost to struggling Stade de Reims. Ancelotti's meaning was clear, as was PSG's ultimate aim.
Flush with Qatari cash, PSG have spent heavily in recent seasons to construct a squad strong enough to challenge for Continental honors. After a second-placed finish in France's Ligue 1 last season, PSG bought Ibrahimovic and Brazilian defender Thiago Silva from AC Milan, Argentine forward Ezequiel Lavezzi from Napoli and Italian midfielder Marco Verratti from Pescara (via BBC Sport).
Half of the quartet sat out Wednesday night—both Ibrahimovic and Verratti were suspended—and for more than half the match, PSG were not the same team. Silva returned to steady the defense, but for much of the match, PSG simply lacked the organization and creativity to break Valencia down at the other end.
In an insipid first half, only Lucas Moura, another recent big-money signing who arrived in January, showed any sparkle. As a whole, PSG were lost, fragmented and aimless.
Lucas Moura a step ahead of his teammates there, good cut-back towards Pastore goes begging. #PSG #UCL3/6/2013, 8:26:37 PM
The second half brought more life, but only after Jonas gave Valencia hope with a wonderful 55th-minute strike. Soon afterwards, forward Kevin Gameiro replaced holding midfielder Thiago Motta, and within minutes the little Frenchman was making a nuisance of himself.
His harrying and hustle paid off in the 66th minute, when a lucky bounce found Lavezzi in Valencia's box. But while Lavezzi's leveler finished the scoring and steadied PSG for the final 20 minutes, the performance hardly convinced.
In short, without Zlatan this team appeared both rudderless and ordinary. Depending on which team they draw in the quarterfinals, PSG could be underdogs and perhaps should go home.
But that's an argument for later, and perhaps that's all that matters. After a couple of recent losses to unfashionable league opposition, PSG needed only to progress, much less to impress. On that score, Ancelotti must be satisfied.
"The goal we conceded woke us up. After we conceded, we did better," said Ancelotti (via UEFA.com). "It's a very important result for everyone and for the club. It's very difficult for us to win (the Champions League), but it's our aim to do our best."
As the competition continues and the tests become more difficult, one can only wonder whether their best will be enough.
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