Paris Saint-Germain coach Carlo Ancelotti praised his players after they battled past Valencia to join the continent’s elite in the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time in 18 years.
Leading 2-1 from the first leg of their last-16 tie, PSG appeared at real risk of blowing it when Jonas put Valencia in front on the night early in the second half.
However, Ezequiel Lavezzi’s equalizer calmed the nerves and helped the French club go through, with a 1-1 draw ensuring a 3-2 aggregate triumph.
Ancelotti has won Europe’s leading club competition both as a player and as a coach with AC Milan, so he knows what it takes to go all the way, but he admits that the performances of his newly put-together team have pleasantly surprised him.
“Nobody knows how far we can go,” the Italian said. “Up to this point we have done very well, but this is our first year in the competition for a lot of the players.”
“They have been fantastic so far, and now we will need to see what the draw brings,” he said.
Top of Ligue 1, and through to the quarter-finals of the French Cup, PSG are one of just a handful of European clubs still in with a chance of winning three major trophies this season.
Ancelotti says he is proud of that fact, even if his team’s performances have often come in for criticism.
“We can’t put all of our energy into Europe, because we are still fighting on three fronts,” he said.
“Porto, Juventus and Bayern Munich are the only other teams in Europe still fighting on three fronts, so I am very happy with the team and I want to say thanks to all of the players,” Ancelotti said.
With talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic missing due to suspension, and David Beckham left on the bench, Kevin Gameiro was the star on the night for PSG, coming on to replace Thiago Motta just before the hour and setting up the crucial equalizing goal for Lavezzi.
It was the diminutive striker’s first appearance in the Champions League this season, and Ancelotti singled out the French international for praise.
“Gameiro did very well,” the Italian said. “I wanted an extra midfielder initially, which is why he didn’t start, but when he came on he did well and was the key to getting the equalizer.”
“He played very well,” he added, with his decision not to send on David Beckham proving justified.
“To replace Motta I had to choose between Gameiro and Beckham and I thought [Gameiro] could bring more attacking energy,” Ancelotti said.
Meanwhile, Valencia coach Ernesto Valverde was left to wonder what might have been after his side gave themselves too much to do by conceding twice in the first leg at home.
“The first leg had an impact on this game,” Valverde said. “This game was similar, with us having most of the ball, but we didn’t allow them as many clear chances this time.”
JUVENTUS V CELTIC
AFP, TURIN, Italy
Juventus coach Antonio Conte said the Italian giants’ bid for European glory is just beginning after a 2-0 second leg win over Celtic ended the Scots’ faint hopes of making it to the last eight of the Champions League.
Juventus had taken a huge step toward the quarter-finals after a 3-0 win over the Scottish champions at Celtic Park last month.
At a packed Juventus Stadium, Celtic produced a positive first-half performance, but went in for the break 1-0 down after a 24th minute strike by Alessandro Matri.
The visitors continued to press, but found Juve’s defense virtually impenetrable and their hopes were over when Fabio Quagliarella tapped home Arturo Vidal’s square ball past a beaten Fraser Forster just after the hour.
Ahead of next week’s draw, Conte — who was quick to applaud Celtic and their fans — said the Italian champions would be “humble” when it comes to meeting “strong” sides like Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid.
Asked how he would approach the next phase of the competition, Conte said: “We have to wait for the draw.”
“I tend to be a fatalist so we have to watch out and see which players we do have available and who we come up against,” he said.
“We’re now in a very positive situation, but with some pros and cons. But I hope we will be able overcome the challenges that lie ahead,” Conte said.