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Di Maria leads PSG to 1st-ever Champions League final berth

Sports Desk, Aug 18 (efe-epa).- Angel Di Maria tallied one goal and assisted on two others to lead Paris Saint-German to a 3-0 victory Tuesday over upstart RB Leipzig and a first-ever berth for the French club in a Champions League final.

The Ligue 1 side dominated in all areas in this behind-closed-doors semifinal contest at Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, employing superior tactics, defending more effectively and capitalizing better on their scoring opportunities.

Brazilian superstar Neymar Jr. nearly opened the scoring in the sixth minute when he received a pass from Kylian Mbappe and fired a shot that went wide of the post.

Mbappe then appeared to score a minute later, but the referee called Neymar for a hand ball on an attempted clearance by Leipzig goalie Peter Gulasci and disallowed the goal.

But the Parisian club’s constant pressure led to three consecutive corner kicks a few minutes later, the last of which led to a foul on Neymar by French defender Nordi Mukiele.

Di Maria took the ensuing free kick and sent a curling ball into the area in the direction of Marquinhos, who used his athleticism to rise up and power a header into the back of the net in the 13th minute.

Leipzig’s chances, meanwhile, were few and far between, the best of which in the first half came in the 25th minute when Yussuf Poulsen received a cross from the right side from Konrad Laimer but missed the mark with his shot.

The second goal came in the 42nd minute after a poor clearance by Gulasci. Leandro Paredes gained control of the ball and found Neymar, who bounced a back-heeled pass that Di Maria controlled and then fired just inside the right post in the 42nd minute.

PSG had a chance to take a 3-0 lead into the break, but Neymar failed to convert a counter-attack opportunity with time winding down.

After the intermission, Leipzig head coach Julian Nagelsmann tried to seize the momentum by inserting Emil Forsberg and Patrick Schick for Christopher Nkunku and Dani Olmo.

The Bundesliga club’s play improved for about 10 minutes, but PSG put the game out of reach in the 56th minute when Juan Bernat scored on a header off of a cross by Di Maria.

The Argentine had taken possession of the ball when Mukiele slipped near the corner flag in his side of the field.

A fourth goal nearly came later on a one-on-one chance for Mbappe against Gulasci, but the Hungarian netminder broke up the chance to prevent an even bigger rout.

PSG’s website showed scenes of elation in the team’s locker room after the game, while Mbappe sent out a confident tweet that read, “ONE STEP TO MAKE HISTORY…”

The berth in the final is an enormous achievement for a club and a fan base that have dreamed of soccer’s biggest club title since Qatar Sports Investments became majority shareholders in 2011.

The club splurged to acquire Neymar from FC Barcelona in 2017 and Mbappe a year later from fellow Ligue 1 side Monaco, a pair of moves that are the two most expensive worldwide soccer transfers to date.

PSG on Aug. 23 will be back at Estadio da Luz to take on either Bundesliga powerhouse and five-time champion Bayern Munich, who humiliated Barcelona 8-2 in the quarterfinals, or surprise semifinalist Lyon, who stunned Manchester City.

That second semifinal will be played on Wednesday at Estadio Jose Alvalade in Lisbon.

The Champions League’s quarterfinal and semifinal rounds have traditionally been home-and-away clashes, but they were reduced to single-elimination matches this season (all played in Lisbon) due to the long, coronavirus-triggered hiatus. EFE-EPA

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