Paris Saint-Germain advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals 3-2 on aggregate with a 2-0 second-leg victory over Borussia Dortmund at an empty Parc des Princes stadium on Wednesday.
The Ligue 1 side faced the prospect of yet another disappointing campaign in Europe after losing 2-1 at Dortmund, however first-half goals from Neymar and Juan Bernat secured passage on an eerie night in Paris.
Over 3,000 ultra fans gathered near the Parc des Princes before kickoff after being granted authorisation by the police — demonstrations being considered an exemption to the ban of gatherings of more than 1,000 as French authorities try to contain the coronavirus, which has infected 2,281 people and killed 48.
They lit firework and their chants could be overheard in the stadium. “Our only virus is Paris SG,” a banner in the empty arena read.
“It was a perfect game,” said centre-back Marquinhos, who marshalled the PSG defence with Presnel Kimpembe. “We now need to keep the same mindset for the remainder of the competition.”
PSG were without captain Thiago Silva, who had not fully recovered from a hamstring injury, while Kylian Mbappe started on the bench after suffering from a sore throat that led to him being tested for the coronavirus with the results coming back negative.
Neymar, who appeared to hurt his shoulder early in the match, opened the scoring on 28 minutes with a well-placed diving header from an Angel Di Maria cross following a corner kick.
Bernat collected an unlikely second goal just before half-time following a swift PSG move — the former Bayern Munich man ever-so-slightly redirecting a low Pablo Sarabia cross past Roman Burki and into the far netting.
Pushing and shoving between the teams ensued after a hard challenge on Neymar on the sideline, highlighting a frustrating night for the Germans in France — new signing Emre Can receiving a red card for pushing the Brazilian after a verbal exchange.
The match was played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus outbreak in Europe, with the French government announcing on Sunday night an indefinite ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people.
Following the match, PSG manager Thomas Tuchel said: “The atmosphere was good on the bus and when we arrived with the ultras. It created a good vibe on the bus and we were singing together. That was special.
“I told the lads pre-match that this was exactly the atmosphere, state of mind and energy that I wanted us to play with. Football is a relationship between the spectators and the team — it creates a special energy.
“I saw the fans after the match. Mid-game was a bit more difficult as I was totally focused. I was there afterwards and it was for them. Football is for the fans, the spectators — those who love this game.”
The Ligue 1 champions made it past the last 16 after painful exits at the same stage in the last two years. They let slip a 4-0 advantage in a 6-5 aggregate defeat by Barcelona in 2017 and lost to Manchester United on away goals after beating the English side 2-0 at Old Trafford 12 months ago.
PSG have experienced an impressive run of domestic success since Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Qatar Sports Investments took over the club in 2011 but have never won the Champions League.
After the match, PSG players climbed up a Parc des Princes stand overlooking the street where thousands of fans waited for them. Brazilian forward Neymar burst into tears as his team mates cheered the flare-throwing fans from the top of the Auteuil stand.
“We have values and we have character,” said Marquinhos. “We heard the fans, we saw them before the game, I had never seen that before.
“It is what football is about, it’s about passion, that’s what we’re here for.”