When Zlatan Ibrahimovic sent a blistering left-footed shot into the top corner of the Bayer Leverkusen net after 42 minutes of Tuesday's last 16 first leg, it was a strike that effectively secured Paris Saint-Germain’s place in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Only a couple minutes earlier, the giant Swede had stepped up to immaculately slam a sweet penalty beyond Bernd Leno after referee Viktor Kassai had generously deemed Ezequiel Lavezzi had been tugged back by Emir Spahic in the box, adding to Blaise Matuidi’s second-minute opener. In the closing moments, PSG’s presence in the quarterfinals was secured when Yohan Cabaye side footed a shot into the top corner.
The spectacular second from Ibrahimovic was his 34th of the season for PSG, and now, barely halfway through February, he is only one goal shy of his best ever tally for an individual campaign. In each of the last two terms – once with AC Milan and once with PSG – he has reached 35 strikes.
Ibrahimovic, 32, may be getting on in years from a footballing perspective, but his form is certainly not depreciating and he is now set to smash his personal best in terms of goals at club level, while maintaining a rate of 41 goals in 41 appearances overall. Cristiano Ronaldo has scored only one more goal this season for club and country.
Leverkusen coach Sami Hyypia admitted he feared the Swede's mercurial abilities prior to kick off, and his prophetic words will be of little comfort as he considers what was a harrowing defeat.
"Zlatan is absolutely top level, he can score goals from anywhere at any time," the Finn told the press. "You can play a perfect match but he will still score.
"When you are a defender, you always analyze in detail the strengths of the attacker you are dealing with. In the case of Ibrahimovic, I'm not sure that works. He is the perfect striker."
The Germans did not achieve anything like flawlessness and even with Ibra somewhat peripheral were brutally punished.
In the Champions League this season, the former Barcelona, Inter and Juventus forward has been irresistible. He's mustered an impressive 10 goals in only six matches, including blockbuster efforts against Anderlecht and Leverkusen, which will go down as two of the Swede’s finest.
Tuesday’s was far from Ibrahimovic’s best performance but his display mirrored that of his side. PSG never looked troubled but never needed to extend themselves offensively to score their goals. Nevertheless, it were ruthlessly efficient, with Matuidi pouncing on an early error from Simon Rolfes to latch onto a Marco Verratti pass and calmly open the scoring.
Then came the clinical double from the Swede, and for much of the second half PSG contented themselves with draining the legs of their opponents, dominating the ball and keeping possession from the hosts – which had seen Spahic harshly dismissed early in the second half – and only rarely did the club threaten a fourth. With two minutes remaining, Cabaye’s late strike was a mere bonus for a team thoroughly satisfied with its evening’s work.
Leverkusen, it must be said, was not opposition worthy of a last 16 berth. The Germans rolled over tamely, offering nothing notable as an offensive threat and barely any credible defensive resistance.
PSG is yet to be fully stretched in this season’s Champions League and will need to beat better sides than Leverkusen before it can be really taken seriously, but there is no doubt that Ibrahimovic's incredible numbers deserve to be hailed.
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