PARIS: Eleven lads in black and white dared to dream in Paris — and they came within a whisker of achieving what so many said was impossible.
You have to go back to 2004 for the last time Paris Saint-Germain suffered a home defeat at the Parc des Princes in the Champions League group stages. And Newcastle United, down to their bare bones and staring elimination in the face, saw their three-point dream robbed by a controversial VAR call in added time.
With just two minutes of an inexplicable eight added remaining, Szymon Marciniak was sent to evaluate his decision to not give a spot-kick for the ball clipping Tino Livramento’s elbow after hitting his side. He pointed to the spot, and Kylian Mbappe obliged with the finish from 12 yards.
And with that, Newcastle writing their own little bit of history, in completing arguably their greatest ever European away day result, went up in smoke.
While disappointment will be the overriding emotion for everyone associated with the Magpies in the short term, it will not take long for pride to expel such thoughts.
Adversity may well be the buzzword on Tyneside at the moment but write Eddie Howe’s team off at your peril — they are made of sterner stuff these days.
On whether he felt a sense of injustice, head coach Howe said: “Yes, I do. It was, in my opinion, not the right decision. So many things to take into account. I think the speed first, it was a ricochet that when slowed down looks totally different from the live event.
“The ball hits his chest first then comes up and hits his hand. I don’t think his hand is in an unnatural position. It’s done by his side, he’s in a running motion. I feel it’s a poor decision.
“It was hugely frustrating for us because in that moment you know how little time there is left in the game. Nothing we can do about that.”
Unlike fellow Premier League boss Mikel Arteta, Howe decided to keep his counsel when faced with VAR controversy. Arteta faces an FA charge for his remarks after his defeat at St. James’ Park earlier this month.
“I have to control myself, that’s my job. It doesn’t do any good to lose control of what you think and say.
“But I just feel for the players after what they’ve given today and how we’ve performed in very difficult circumstances and what that decision does to the group. Now the destiny is not with us, but that’s tough to take after being so close.
“I was fearing the worst. I can’t remember how many times it had happened in the game when you fear that due to numbers one is going to go against you. You should feel every decision is independent.
“But of course, when he goes to the monitor you fear the worst and you just hope the referee, in that moment, can see it clearly for what it is, rather than the opinion they’re getting somewhere else.”
The wider picture for Newcastle has become much clearer when it comes to Champions League progression. While defeat on Tuesday would have put the Magpies out of the competition, a point has kept things alive. In fact, a win over AC Milan would guarantee European football, either in the last 16, or in the Europa League.
Howe said: “We’re still in it. That’s another thing we can’t forget. We could easily have come here and have not been in the competition anymore. We still believe. As much as it’s a huge, deflating feeling, it could be another story in our season.
“Nick (Pope) was like he was against AC Milan away when we needed a giant performance from him. The players accepted we had to defend well and defend our goal like our life depended on it. It looked like we got there. They missed some chances; you can’t deny that.
“When we’ve defended so well in that shape, with those personnel for so long, sometimes you make a change, and it creates a mistake. Sometimes you twist, sometimes you stick. We decided to stick and obviously it didn’t work out,” Howe added.