Paris // Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc heaped praise on Edinson Cavani after the Uruguayan played the role of super-sub to give his side a 2-1 win against Chelsea in their Uefa Champions League last 16, first leg.
Cavani replaced Lucas in the 74th minute of Tuesday’s game at the Parc des Princes and four minutes later beat Thibaut Courtois with a first-time finish from an Angel di Maria assist to ensure the French champions will take a lead to London for the second leg next month.
It was just his second goal of 2016 after a difficult spell which has seen the player signed for a French record transfer fee of 64 million euros ($71 million; £50 million) from Napoli lose his place as a regular starter.
“Whoever got the second goal I would have been happy and I am happy for Edi. He’s a boy who scores goals -- we doubt his goal-scoring talents often and then he pops up and shows he can put the ball in the net at any time,” said Blanc.
“He has gone through a very difficult time but I hope the fact he got the goal will be good for him and the team.”
It looked like Chelsea would head back across the Channel the happier after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s free-kick opener was cancelled out by the rarest of goals -- a poacher’s finish by John Obi Mikel right on the stroke of half-time.
Several fine saves by Courtois in the second half thwarted PSG for long spells until Cavani’s winner, and now Chelsea will need to score at Stamford Bridge in the return on March 9 if they are to stand a chance of going through.
However, away goals have decided the meetings of these clubs in the last two seasons, with Chelsea advancing in the 2014 quarter-finals and Paris going through in the last 16 a year ago despite being held 1-1 at home in the first leg.
“The big regret for me is that we lost the goal just before half-time,” said Blanc.
“Maybe we need to ask UEFA if it’s fair that away goals count double, but tonight we can be happy because we played the way we want to play.
“It is not a very big advantage but in terms of the football we played it’s very satisfying.”
PSG kept up their impressive record this season, which now reads just one defeat in 40 matches in all competitions, with that loss coming away to Real Madrid.
In contrast, this was a first defeat for Chelsea in 13 matches since the sacking of Jose Mourinho in December, but their interim coach Guus Hiddink remains upbeat about their chances in the return.
“Of course a defeat is never a good or nice feeling but you have to consider it’s a two-leg game and scoring away is always important,” said Hiddink, who came to Paris with a reorganised defence in the absence of injured captain John Terry.
“We emphasised the importance of defensive organisation but we were dangerous too. Losing 2-1, of course we’re still in the race.
“We could have been a little bit more lethal in the four or five counters we made but it is difficult to play them. I am never happy with a loss but it’s not a dramatic loss.”
The veteran Dutchman, who admitted Terry was a doubt for this weekend’s FA Cup fifth-round tie against Manchester City, said it was still impossible to name a favourite to go through to the last eight.
“I think it’s 50-50 still. Our opponents are a very strong team and that’s why I think our performance was very good.
“Everyone could see this PSG likes to play football. They are very smart and you must be very alert.
“If you have seen the second goal -- this was a typical example of how we prepared them but you cannot do everything well. They have a nose for creating danger.”
Last 16, first leg Champions League results from Tuesday
Paris SG (FRA) 2 (Ibrahimovic 39, Cavani 78) Chelsea (ENG) 1 (Mikel 45+1)
Benfica (POR) 1 (Jonas 90+1) Zenit St. Petersburg (RUS) 0
Wednesday fixtures (all kick-offs 11.45pm UAE)
Gent (BEL) v VfL Wolfsburg (GER)
Roma (ITA) v Real Madrid (ESP)
Tuesday, February 23
Arsenal (ENG) v Barcelona (ESP)
Juventus (ITA) v Bayern Munich (GER)
Wednesday, February 24
PSV Eindhoven (NED) v Atletico Madrid (ESP)
Dynamo Kiev (UKR) v Manchester City (ENG)
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