Ibra shines again as PSG start with draw at Reims

SUPER ZLATAN::Though his side made a slow start amid post-World Cup recovery, the Swede launched the season with a display that could see him top the goal charts again

AFP, PARIS

Sun, Aug 10, 2014 - Page 18

Zlatan Ibrahimovic took center stage on Friday as reigning Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain came from behind to draw 2-2 with Stade de Reims in the opening game of the top flight’s new season.

The Swede, France’s leading scorer and standout performer in each of the past two Ligue 1 campaigns, scored one goal, was credited with another and missed a penalty that he won in a remarkable encounter at the Stade Auguste Delaune in Reims, France.

After Ibrahimovic opened the scoring, goals from Prince Oniangue and Antoine Devaux had unfancied Reims in front at halftime in Champagne country, before the Swedish striker saw parity restored in the second period when his cross was palmed across the line by home goalkeeper Johny Placide.

It was not the ideal start to the season for the capital club, but coach Laurent Blanc had warned that PSG need time to find their feet, with a host of leading players only recently beginning their preparations after taking holidays in the wake of the FIFA World Cup, which ended last month in Brazil.

Starting slowly is nothing new for PSG, who have now failed to win their opening match in any of the four seasons since Qatar Sports Investments began revolutionizing the club in 2011.

“I thought my team played well. My only reproach is that they didn’t kill the game off inside the first 20 minutes,” Blanc told beIN Sports.

Summer signing David Luiz did not feature in the visitors’ squad, while Yohan Cabaye, Blaise Matuidi, Maxwell and Ezequiel Lavezzi were also absent, but surprisingly, Brazil’s Thiago Silva did start and also captained the side, despite having only come back to Paris earlier this week.

On a wet night, Silva was a spectator for much of the opening 20 minutes as Paris threatened to embarrass the hosts.

Ibrahimovic, scorer of a brace in PSG’s 2-0 victory against En Avant de Guingamp last weekend in the Champions Trophy — an annual match between the league and Coupe de France holders — broke the deadlock inside seven minutes with a low finish under Placide after good work by Javier Pastore.

The big striker was then furious with Lucas after the Brazilian attempted, unsuccessfully, to dribble round the goalkeeper instead of teeing up his colleague, who had the goal gaping.

Yet when Marco Verratti laid A chance on a plate for Ibrahimovic moments later, he hit the post instead of rolling the ball into an empty net.

Reims could not cope with their opponents’ attacking quality, but they were again let off the hook on 20 minutes when Ibrahimovic, having won a penalty after going down rather easily under a Mickael Tacalfred challenge, saw his spot-kick saved by Placide.

The hosts, playing their first competitive game since the summer appointment of coach Jean-Luc Vasseur to replace the Olympique Lyonnais-bound Hubert Fournier, soon punished PSG’s profligacy.

French-Congolese midfielder Oniangue got the equalizer when he turned in an Aissa Mandi free-kick that had been missed by Gregory Van der Wiel at the near post and Devaux then slotted in his side’s second after running half the length of the pitch and exchanging passes with Gaetan Charbonnier.

However, Vasseur’s side could not maintain their lead after the restart, as PSG applied the pressure.

It was 2-2 just after the hour mark when Ibrahimovic skipped away from Tacalfred and held up a spinning cross that the falling Placide could only palm over his own line and then out again. If there was any doubt, Edinson Cavani made sure by tucking home the rebound, but the goal was credited to Ibrahimovic.

Still, PSG could not find a winner, coming closest when substitute Clement Chantome’s stoppage-time attempt was cleared off the line by the alert Mandi.