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UEFA Champions League

‘Group of death’ delivers as PSG, Newcastle and Milan all stay in hunt

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Champions League - Group F - Paris St Germain v Newcastle United - Parc des Princes, Paris, France - November 28, 2023 Paris St Germain's Kylian Mbappe celebrates scoring their first goal REUTERS/Stephane Mahe TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY Acquire Licensing Rights

When the Champions League draw was made Group F always looked like being too close to call and it will duly go right down to the wire with French aristocrats Paris St Germain still in control of their destiny, but only just.

Manager Luis Enrique was breathing a massive sigh of relief on Tuesday as Kylian Mbappe struck home a penalty in the eighth minute of stoppage time to earn a 1-1 draw at home to Newcastle United who had been on the brink of a memorable double.

The visitors were desperately defending the lead given to them by Swedish striker Alexander Isak midway through the first half but suffered heartbreak when Tino Livramento was harshly-adjudged to have handled as an Ousmane Dembele pass bounced off his chest and against his elbow.

Mbappe netted from the spot to earn a point which left PSG in second spot with seven points, three behind already-qualified Borussia Dortmund who they face in their final group match.

PSG, who have reached the last-16 at least for the last 11 seasons, know that only a win in Dortmund will guarantee a last-16 place, but such is the complexity of a high-octane group they could also lose and still progress.

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Newcastle must beat seven-time European champions Milan in their last game and hope PSG do not win if they are to grab second spot, while Milan could also still reach the last-16 with a victory at St James’ Park.

“The most important thing is to focus on ourselves. If we win, we’re going to finish first, but even if we lose, we can go through to the next phase,” Luis Enrique, whose side lost 4-1 away to Newcastle, said. “It’s so complicated, but I hope we can make it easier by winning against Dortmund.”

His side had 31 goal attempts against Newcastle on Tuesday but contrived to miss chances galore. “I think we deserved to win, we created a lot of clear chances and, at times, it was difficult to get the ball in,” the Spaniard said.

Newcastle were crestfallen as they trudged off the Parc des Princes pitch with a burning sense of injustice.

They have a long injury list and were out on their feet but had heroes all over the pitch including keeper Nick Pope and 17-year-old midfielder Lewis Miley, the third-youngest English player to start in the Champions League and the unlucky left back Livramento, another young Englishman with a bright future.

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Manager Eddie Howe was admirably restrained about the penalty awarded by referee Szymon Marciniak after VAR instructed him to view a pitchside monitor, more so than former Newcastle striker Alan Shearer who described the decision as disgusting.

“I thought the referee was having a good game up until this moment. He had been strong,” Howe said.

But he was not too downhearted and said Newcastle will go into the home clash against Milan with high hopes of reaching the last 16 on their long-awaited return to the competition.

“We’re still in it. That’s another thing we can’t forget. We could easily have come here and have not been in the competition anymore,” he said. “We still believe. As much as it’s a huge, deflating feeling — it could be another story in our season.”

-Reuters

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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