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How five fouls in the first 22 minutes helped to decide Borussia Dortmund v PSG

There were multiple talking points in Borussia Dortmund’s 2-1 win against PSG, the most spectacular of which was Erling Haaland’s eighth-placed finish in the 60m 2018 World Indoor Championships final.

Haaland saw off Kylian Mbappe in the battle of the 2022 Ballon d’Or winners, with his second strike hitting the net so loudly that it could momentarily be heard over Diego Simeone’s rantings in Madrid.

Dortmund’s front three, which at one stage consisted of players born in Sunderland, Leeds and London, comfortably upstaged their cosmopolitan counterparts, who hailed from Sao Paulo, Rosario and Paris.

Fully at one with the goals

Fully at one with the goals

The most-eye catching attacking talent on the pitch wasn’t Haaland, though. Jadon Sancho took that title, seemingly operating in double speed compared to his slow motion opponents.

Sancho weaved from right to left with ease, threatening to meme any PSG defender unlucky enough to cross his path with a nutmeg or kaleidoscopic stepover.

Neymar, by stark contrast, played like he’d fallen out of love with the football and was doing everything humanly possible to upset it, including sending it into orbit from a 40-yard free-kick.

Sancho and Neymar can rightly lay claim to the tile of The Flairiest Players in World Football, so why did one show up on the big stage and the other, far more experienced trickster, completely choke?

Southwark meets Sao Paulo

Southwark meets Sao Paulo

To answer that conundrum you need look no further than the first 22 minutes of the Champions League last 16 tie at Signal Iduna Park.

Both Lucien Favre and his managerial adversary Thomas Tuchel would have hammered home the message to deny Neymar and Sancho space, and it took just nine minutes for Raphael Guerreiro to bring the Brazilian down inside Dortmund’s half, much to the former Barcelona forward’s frustration.

Six minutes later Axel Witsel clattered into the 28-year-old. Four minutes after that, it was Emre Can’s turn to test the resistance of Neymar shin pads.

Crucially, Dortmund spread the rough handling of Neymar and avoided any retribution from referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz, allowing Can and Witsel to commit further first-half fouls on Angel Di Maria without picking up a booking.

It’s going to be a long night

It’s going to be a long night

If there were doubts about Neymar’s fitness coming into the game, three fouls in 19 minutes made sure he wasn’t performing at 100% both mentally and physically.

Can’s foul broke Neymar’s spirit, and it wasn’t long before he was dribbling down blind alleys, ignoring team-mates and infuriating Tuchel.

His goal, a tap-in following a breakneck dribble from Kylian Mbappe, couldn’t camouflage what was a glaringly off-colour performance from the Brazilian, made all the more obvious in light of Sancho’s brilliance.

PSG also tried to stop Dortmund’s main creative threat, with Idrissa Gueye tasked to bodyguard Sancho, but the former Everton midfielder failed woefully.

Dortmund & Chill

Dortmund & Chill

Far from breaking Sancho’s spirit, Gueye ignited a fire within the 19-year-old that PSG struggled to extinguish all night.

He fouled Sancho twice within four minutes, spreading uncertainty and panic amongst the PSG defence while inflating the Londoner’s already sky-high confidence.

Whereas the first 22 minutes left a brooding Neymar concerned that he was in for a long and painful night, Sancho came away with the impression that he had PSG’s defence on strings, at the mercy of his every feint.

Matches at the highest level are won and lost on such subtle nuances, so don’t be surprised when PSG learn their lesson and spread the load next time Sancho comes to town.

Don’t forget your shinnies.