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Barcelona Hope Young Blood Can Overcome Old Ghosts In Europe

Barcelona host Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday hoping their young stars can help them vanquish the ghosts of the past and return the five-time winners to the Champions League elite. The Catalans’ dramatic 3-2 quarter-final first leg victory in Paris is arguably their finest result away from home in the competition in the last decade, sparking big dreams in Catalonia. “I understand the euphoria — it’s better to live with euphoria than with pessimism,” said Barca coach Xavi Hernandez on Saturday.

Xavi’s side which snatched victory at the Parc des Princes featured the two youngest players ever to play in the final eight of the Champions League, in 16-year-old Lamine Yamal, and Pau Cubarsi, 17.

That fresh blood has brought new life to a team not only struggling this season but which has been weighed down mentally by failure stacked on failure since they last triumphed in Europe in 2015.

The Catalans lifted the trophy in Berlin with current PSG coach Luis Enrique at the helm, propelled by the magical strike force of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.

The years since have been a collection of dramatic collapses on the biggest stages on the continent and, worse still, ignominious defeats in earlier rounds.

Yamal and Cubarsi are untainted by the psychological damage of those defeats and Xavi has praised their mentality.

“(Yamal) is very calm and very mature, so measured in the sense that he bears everything so well that’s happening to him, despite his young age,” said Xavi in March.

After Cubarsi shone to help Barcelona progress from the last 16 against Napoli, Xavi offered similar praise.

“He has a very well furnished brain,” said the coach.

‘Put the ghosts aside’

Cubarsi’s cool was just what Barcelona lacked when they threw away a 4-1 first leg lead to crash out in 2018 at Roma in the quarter-finals, pounded 3-0 at the Olympic Stadium in the Italian capital.

The following season they collapsed at an ecstatic Anfield, unable to protect a 3-0 advantage earned at the Camp Nou.

The remarkable 4-0 second leg defeat sent shock waves reverberating around the club and led to coach Ernesto Valverde’s eventual sacking a few months later.

The final nail in the coffin for the majority of the players remaining from Barcelona’s golden era was an 8-2 hammering by Bayern Munich in the 2020 quarters.

Many of Barcelona’s veteran stars seemed scarred by their European collapses and before long Messi, Suarez, Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique and company were gone.

Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen is one of two survivors from the triumphant 2015 team, along with Sergi Roberto who famously scored the decisive sixth goal in Barca’s 6-1 ‘remontada’ — comeback — against PSG in 2017.

“We have to put the ghosts aside,” said the goalkeeper in October after Barca won a hard-fought group game at Porto.

“It’s not necessary to put pressure on ourselves… we have a different team (now).”

The Bayern defeat left no doubts about the idea Barcelona had fallen from the game’s upper crust.

Between then and now Barcelona have twice crashed out in the group stage, dropping into the Europa League and hitting their lowest ebb in the 21st century.

President Joan Laporta pledged to restore Barcelona to the highest pedestal of European football and now has the club on the verge of the final four, after four years without making the quarter-finals.

Critics chastised him for failing to make good on his pledge to keep Messi at the club, but that role on the right of the attack is now where Yamal is flourishing.

Laporta was also blasted for sacrificing future television revenue for funds to splurge on Robert Lewandowski, Jules Kounde, Raphinha and others in the summer of 2022, but they all shone against PSG with the latter netting twice.

By winning La Liga last season Barcelona showed they were improving and now what remains is finishing the job they started in Paris to make that progress evident in Europe too.

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