If this was meant to be a pre-season friendly, then it turned out to be everything but one.
We often hear, read, and witness first-hand about how drab these matches can get, and about how fans are not getting their money’s worth because of the absence of star players.
But for the 22,007 fans present at the National Stadium last night for the International Champions Cup (ICC) match between Paris Saint Germain and Atletico Madrid, they will certainly talk about this contest for the next few days and weeks, if not months and years to come.
If they arrived disappointed at the absence of superstars Diego Godin, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Edinson Cavani, then they left awed and surprised, thanks to some wonderful teen sensations from both sides.
The wild celebrations that ensued on the PSG bench when 18-year-old Virgiliu Postolachi scored with virtually the last kick of the match to seal a dramatic 3-2 win for the French giants summed it all up.
It is ironic, for the match with the lowest attendance of this year’s ICC in Singapore (and that of last year’s inaugural edition too) threw up the most end-to-end, high octane, high-intensity action.
“The performance in the second half is what we can take away because we left our heart on the field,” said a delighted PSG head coach Thomas Tuchel after the game.
“We showed unbelievable mentality against a team that is so well-known and a team with the best mentality, maybe in the world.”
“The youngsters played amazing in the second half. They played with passion and they played with intensity and they gave everything, which is what we need and what they deserved”
“So this is a very good ending. This is, of course, a good feeling for our self-confidence.”
There was a rather drowsy and mundane mood in the stadium before kickoff, with not many expecting a classic.
It was after all a Monday night, and bar the presence of established names Adrien Rabiot, Marco Verratti and Angel Di Maria (PSG), Juanfran, Kevin Gameiro and Angel Correa (Atletico) there was honestly nothing else too appealing about the starting 11 of both teams.
PSG almost surged into the lead in the fourth minute when Di María, who arrived in Singapore on Sunday afternoon as a last-minute addition to PSG’s youthful tour squad, saw his powerful free-kick punched away by Atletico custodian Antonio Adán.
Four minutes later, it was Kevin Trapp’s time to shine in goal for PSG when the German pulled off a terrific save with his left-foot from point-blank range to deny Correa.
Straight down the other end, Christopher Nkunku guided Giovani Lo Celso’s dangerous cross just wide of the left-hand post.
After witnessing a zealous opening 10 minutes from both sides, the crowd were suddenly pumped up, and there was a roar of expectancy whenever both sides went on the offensive.
Atletico should have taken the lead in the 11th minute when Gameiro was put through on goal by Correa.
However, the French striker, possibly caught in two minds, proceeded to horribly miscue his chipped-shot over the bar when the easier option would have been to place the ball into the bottom right-hand corner.
Gameiro was made to rue that miss when PSG opened the scoring 20 minutes later.
Layvin Kurzawa’s shot was blocked by fellow fullback Juanfran, but striker Nkunku was on hand to slam the rebound into the back of the net.
It was the 20-year-old’s second goal of the ICC tournament after he scored against Arsenal from the penalty spot in Saturday’s 5-1 defeat.
Atletico’s frustrations continued just before the break when Luciano Vietto’s close-range attempt was somehow hacked off the line in the nick of time by Kevin Rimane.
There were audible gasps around the stadium at the start of the second-half when it was announced that PSG had replaced all 10 of their outfield players with younger, relatively unknown names.
For a moment, it seemed as though the raft of changes would put the French outfit at a severe disadvantage, but they were helped by Atletico’s profligacy in front of goal.
This was evident when Gameiro raced through on goal, only to fire a meek effort straight at Trapp, before Vietto proceeded to miscue his shot horribly off-target from Joaquin Munoz’s low cross.
The Spanish giants were punished in the 71st minute when Moussa Diaby’s rasping low drive from Timothy Weah’s cross flew beyond a hapless Adán.
Atletico head coach Diego Simeone, who for a majority of the match was spotted barking instructions to his players from outside the technical area, cut a livid and frustrated figure on the sidelines.
Simeone was handed a lifeline with 15 minutes to go when substitute Victor Mallejo rifled the ball into the back of the net at the second time of asking following a goalmouth scramble from a corner.
The once unfathomable comeback was completed in the 87th minute when midfielder Antoine Bernede inadvertently diverted Borja Garces’ cross from the left-flank into his own goal.
Just when it seemed as though a penalty shootout would be required to settle the winner, PSG delivered the ultimate sucker-punch deep into injury time when Postolachi’s screamer from outside the box flew into the top left-hand corner.
It was a goal worthy of winning any game of football, and the sheer delirium that followed on the PSG bench and amongst the PSG supporters in the stands was a fitting vindication.
When asked at the post-match conference whether he was disappointed with the poor finishing of his more established forwards, Simeone refused to get overly critical.
“It is good that the team creates chances,” explained the Argentinian. “It is all about patience and working with them.”
“The guys are doing very well and they were almost about to tie the game. Football is about forcefulness, and PSG had it today.”
One thing’s for sure, in the absence of their well-renowned team-mates, some of these PSG and Atletico teenagers have certainly staked their claim in ICC Singapore!
PSG’s starting lineup: Trapp, Dagba, Rimane, Kurzawa, Diarra, Verratti, Rabiot (C), Lo Celso, Di María, Nsoki and Nkunku.
Atletico’s starting lineup: Adán, Juanfran (C), Moya, Montero, Olabe, Partey, Mikel, Rodri, Vietto, Correa and Gameiro.
Photos by Nigel Noah Chan of the DANAMIC Team.