WHAT WE LEARNED: Paris Saint-Germain show backbone as Barcelona look brittle at the back

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Thiago Silva was the beating heart of the PSG side that kept their Champions League hopes alive with a 2-1 win over Liverpool. (AFP)
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Updated 29 November 2018
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WHAT WE LEARNED: Paris Saint-Germain show backbone as Barcelona look brittle at the back

  • French club add substance to style to show they are more than one-trick ponies.
  • For all their brilliance in attack Barca look vulnerable at the back.

LONDON: With only one match of the group stage to go, here is what we learned from the latest round of matches in the Champions League ...

PSG SHOW SOME FIGHT

For all the money the capital club has had thrown at it, there has always been a sense that while it has bought style, the side still lacked any real substance. In the French league they are rarely challenged — this season they have won all 14 of their matches — so when they have come up against good opposition in Europe they have been found wanting. Wednesday night’s clash against Liverpool at the Parc des Princes was a must-not-lose encounter against the high-flying English side. In short, just the type of match they have struggled to negotiate in the past. However, the moneybags club — led by the brilliant Thiago Silva, right — showed some fight to prevail 2-1 in a match very low on quality. It was the sort of performance they have failed to display come the big European nights and one that — when combined with the flair of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani — bodes well for the rest of the competition.

For all of Neymar's tricks it was the guts and determinination that PSG showed that really caught the eye. 



GROUPS OF DEATH PROVE AS SCARY AS PREDICTED

If there is one criticism of the Champions League other than it has made an already very rich elite even richer, it is that the group stages are fairly dull. They are merely processions in which the big teams swat away the minnows to confirm their spots in the knockout stages, which was all but guaranteed when the draw was made. This year, however, the two “Groups of Death” are providing, for once, a lot of entertainment and bitten fingernails. Group B sees Tottenham needing to beat Barcelona at the Nou Camp to ensure progress or at least match what Inter Milan achieve at home to PSV Eindhoven. Group C sees Liverpool needing to beat current group leaders Napoli at home 1-0 or beat the Italians by two goals to go through. That would, assuming PSG beat Red Star Belgrade, eliminate Carlo Ancelotti’s side. But if Liverpool only win 2-1 they would be the team to exit. 
Exciting stuff …

Both Spurs and Inter will have a nervous final 90 minutes of the group stage.

BARCELONA ARE BRILLIANT AND BRITTLE AT THE SAME TIME

The Catalan giants are something of a Jekyll and Hyde side. Going forward they are the best in the world, playing the game with a devil-may-attitude and bare-faced cheek — mostly down to Lionel Messi’s brilliance — that would force even Real Madrid fans to stand up and applaud. During their 2-1 win at PSV this attacking verve was once again on display. Both Messi’s goal — which proved he is playing a different game from everyone else — and his cheeky free-kick that set up Gerard Pique’s strike, took the breath away. But at the back they look as vulnerable as one of the European minnows. The scoreline read 2-1 to the visitors, but in all fairness the Dutch team should have scored at least three and opened up the Barca backline with, at times, alarming ease. Unless Ernesto Valverde can add some much-needed backbone to the defence then we are going to stick our necks out and say Messi and Co. do not have a chance of lifting the trophy this season.

Messi was once again at his imperious best against PSV, but there remain huge doubts about Barca's backline. 


Algeria sink Senegal in fiery final to claim second Africa Cup of Nations

Updated 53 min 37 sec ago
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Algeria sink Senegal in fiery final to claim second Africa Cup of Nations

  • Bounedjah gave Algeria a dream start in the second minute
  • For Senegal, who lost to Algeria by the same scoreline in the group stage, the long wait for a first continental crown goes on

CAIRO: Baghdad Bounedjah’s early goal propelled Algeria to a first Africa Cup of Nations title in 29 years after a fiery 1-0 victory over Sadio Mane’s Senegal in Friday’s final in Cairo.

Bounedjah gave Algeria a dream start in the second minute when his deflected shot looped over Senegal goalkeeper Alfred Gomis, and it proved enough for the 1990 champions to lift the trophy on foreign soil for the first time.

For Senegal, who lost to Algeria by the same scoreline in the group stage, the long wait for a first continental crown goes on as coach Aliou Cisse, the captain of the 2002 runners-up, again fell short in the final.

It was the first title-decider to feature two African coaches since 1998, with Algeria boss Djamel Belmadi completing a whirlwind 12 months at the helm after inheriting a side that failed to make it out of the group stage two years ago.

With defensive rock Kalidou Koulibaly suspended for Senegal, Salif Sane deputised at the back and Ismaila Sarr was recalled in attack, while Belmadi kept faith in the same side that overcame Nigeria with an injury-time free-kick from Riyad Mahrez.

Senegal had understandably feared the absence of Napoli star Koulibaly, banned after two bookings in the knockout rounds, although the towering Sane was desperately unlucky as Algeria grabbed the lead with scarcely a minute played.

As Bounedjah took aim from 20 yards his effort smacked off Sane and arced high into the air before dropping underneath the crossbar and beyond a static Gomis, sparking delirious celebrations from both players and fans, some of whom arrived for the final on military planes provided by the Algerian government.

It was the first time Gomis had conceded in almost 400 minutes in Egypt having replaced the injured Edouard Mendy ahead of Senegal’s final group game.

Henri Saivet, who missed a penalty in the 1-0 victory over Tunisia, tried to catch Rais Mbohli out with a free-kick while Mbaye Niang fizzed a powerful drive just over as Senegal gradually showed signs of life before the half ended with both sets of players embroiled in a scuffle as they headed for the tunnel.

Senegal thought they had won a penalty on the hour when Cameroonian referee Alioum Alioum pointed to the spot for a suspected handball by Adlene Guedioura, but the official reversed his decision after a VAR review.

Niang rounded an advancing Mbohli after a searching ball through from Cheikhou Kouyate but the forward sliced wide of the target from a tough angle, with the Algeria ‘keeper then acrobatically tipping over a rasping drive from Youssouf Sabaly.

The Desert Foxes started to look jaded as Senegal brought on fresh legs in Krepin Diatta and Mbaye Diagne, but Youcef Belaili nearly made it 2-0 when his cross brushed the head of a defender and skimmed the roof of the net.

Sarr blazed over on the volley as Algeria clung on to their advantage in the closing minutes, the final whistle greeted by an outpouring of raw emotion as the North Africans emerged worthy winners of the expanded 24-team event.

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman telephoned Algeria’s interim president Abdelkader Bensalah to congratulate him on Algeria’s African Cup of Nations win, with Bensalah thanking the king for his phone call.