Lionel Messi was lying down on the pitch looking up to the sky with his arms raised. Jordi Alba was kissing the club badge on his shirt. David Villa was sliding on his knees screaming of happiness. In the stands B team players Sergi Roberto and Marc Muniesa were going mad with their Barça scarfs and flags. So was the rest of the Camp Nou. Kids, grandparents, everyone was jumping, screaming, singing, raising their hands to their heads, wondering: did that just happen?
The weeks and days leading up to the game created an ever stronger feeling that this would be impossible. Since Tito Vilanova was forced to leave the squad for cancer treatment in New York, not much has been the same at FC Barcelona. The team who for the first half of the season were unbeaten had lost four times since Tito left. Heads were down and the team was not only missing its leader but was also negatively affected by not knowing if the coach would be alright. The motivation for football had seemed to be blown away, titles had become meaningless. It felt like a cloud of depression had been hanging over Barcelona lately.
There were few reasons to believe this team would bounce back and turn around the 2-0 loss they faced in Milano. Actually no team in the history of the Champions League had ever turned around such a result before. AC Milan came to Camp Nou with confidence and in their best form of the season. Barça came out to the game after losing twice to Real Madrid and looking unmotivated to play football.
But as I stepped into the Camp Nou, something suddenly changed. The feeling that “this is impossible, there is nothing to be done to be able to fulfill this remuntada” disappeared. It was like the club, the fans and the team had just decided, what the hell – let’s believe we can make this happen. Despite what everything else indicates. Outside Camp Nou there were two big signs with the words “ROAD TO WEMBLEY”. Suddenly the feeling was everywhere, this could be done, this would be done.
A few minutes into the game, an old Catalan man next to me looked me in the eye and said with confidence: “We will score now!”. One minute later Lionel Messi had made it 1-0 and the Camp Nou exploded. After that there was never any doubt, Camp Nou gave the impression that something extraordinary was on the horizon.
What before had felt so impossible now felt like the most obvious outcome. I remember sitting there, with the result still only 1-0 feeling that it would end 4-0, we would make it happen. But one mistake could still see it all gone. Mascherano made that mistake and suddenly M’Baye Niang was one on one with Victor Valdés. As the ball went past Victor it was like everything became slow-motion. Camp Nou was holding its breath. When the ball finally hit the post, the 98,000 at the Camp Nou started to breath again. We were still in the game, it was our game.
Messi made it 2-0 and the elder Catalan men around me screamed in happiness before joining the rest of the stadium in chants of “MESSI, MESSI, MESSI”, bowing for Barcelona’s own deity. But the celebrations would get a lot wilder when David Villa made it 3-0 in the second half. The impossible had been made reality. Camp Nou exploded after it and people all around me were going mad. Scarfs were waved in the air, everyone were singing. But at the same time they all knew that one goal from AC Milan would drag them out of that wonderful dream and throw them under the bus.
With ten minutes left on the clock, Milan had more and more of the ball and the Camp Nou crowd was starting to get nervous for the first time all night. “I’m nervous” were the words coming every five seconds out of my Catalan neighbor at the stadium. So was everyone. Then he came, running, running and running. It was Jordi Alba and he was there to complete one of the most magical nights at Camp Nou. 4-0 and there was nothing holding them back anymore. The impossible had happened and hugs were given out to any and everyone. A happiness unlike anything I had witnessed before was spreading around the Camp Nou. The woman in front of me would not stop jumping and clapping her hands until the game had finished. In fact no one would sit down again, no one would stop clapping, singing, screaming. It was just joy.
Leaving the stadium, all that crossed my mind was – I was there, I will forever be able to tell people that I was there when FC Barcelona fulfilled one of the most insane comebacks in football history. I was at Camp Nou the night Barcelona beat AC Milan 4-0.
In the end it was just the first knock out stage and Barça are not yet anywhere near being crowned European champions. But it was something more than getting through to the quarterfinals. It was the way it was done, how the critics were silenced, how the team managed to lift their heads and go out to win, to win for Tito.
*All the pictures are my own