Zlatan fires PSG into the final
By S. Willis
With an outrageous early first-time shot and a precision late header, Zlatan Ibrahimovic put paid to Nantes' brave resistance and clinched a 2-1 win to send Paris Saint-Germain into the Coupe de la Ligue final on April 19.
FC Nantes 1 - 2 Paris Saint-Germain
The giant Swede can take a lot of the credit for Paris Saint-Germain's booking a place in at the Stade de France in two months' time, his brilliance putting the capital club in front early and his tenacity getting them back on track in the final minute after Nantes had mounted a spirited second-half fight-back to almost force extra-time.
There must have a been a little bit of déja-vu for Nantes keeper Rémy Riou - who shipped five goals in the sides' league clash in Week 21 - as he picked the ball out of the net after just five minute, but there was nothing passé about the way Ibrahimovic had opened the scoring. Riou's rushed clearance fell to the Swede on the edge of the area but instead of taking a touch, Ibrahimovic snapped first-time shot that sailed over an astonished Riou's head and into the back of the net (5').
Hardly the ideal start for Nantes, and Les Canaris endured a major onslaught for the next 25 minutes, the crowd at the Stade de la Beaujoire falling silent as PSG played keep-ball and camped in the Nantes half. However, despite huffing and puffing, Paris failed to blow Nantes' house down and when Riou saved from Ezequiel Lavezzi's close-range effort (30'), the home side began to stir.
Defender Papy Djilobodji was quick to threaten in Nantes' lightning-quick revival, beating Nicolas Douchez with a powerful header only to find Marco Verratti in place to clear off the line (32'). The crowd roared back to life and although Paris managed to maintain possession for much of the rest of the first half, they found themselves pegged back and unable to threaten.
Michel Der Zakarian must have found some choice words for his players at half-time, because Les Canaris seemed a different side in the second half, much less timid and willing to take some risks to get back in the game. Physically, the match intensified and both sides struggled to create chances, leading PSG coach Laurent blanc to bring on the fresh legs of Yohan Cabaye and Jérémy Ménez with 20 minutes to go.
However, it was the fresh legs of Nantes' Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and newly signed Israel international Itay Schechter that made more of an impact, the latter capping Nantes' new-found impetus by crossing hard across the face of goal for looming left-back Olivier Veigneau, who blasted past a wrong-footed Douchez for the long-awaited equaliser (81').
Zlatan finishes the job
With extra-time beckoning, Nantes may have been guilty of losing concentration for the shortest of moments, but against a side like PSG - and a striker like Ibrahimovic - mistakes cost dearly. When Lucas Moura broke down the right in the final minute, Zlatan - hardly in the game in the second half - lost his man and positioned himself perfectly for the Brazilian's brilliant cross, nodding an angled shot past Riou to turn the game on its head once again (90').
PSG, who remain on course for the league and cup double that the club's ambitious owners have targeted for this season, will play the winner of Wednesday night's clash between Lyon and Troyes (L2) in the Coupe de la Ligue final at the Stade de France on Saturday, April 19.