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Paris Saint-Germain's French forward Kylian Mbappe (right) with midfielder Vitinha during a training session at the "campus" of Poissy, western Paris, on Monday. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: Paris Saint-Germain are bidding to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit and beat Borussia Dortmund in their Champions League semi-final return match on Tuesday, with the aim of bringing the curtain down on the Kylian Mbappe era at the club in the final at Wembley.

The only time PSG have previously appeared in the biggest match in club football turned out to be a depressingly flat occasion, with the French side losing 1-0 to Bayern Munich behind closed doors in Lisbon in 2020, at the height of the pandemic.

Reaching the June 1 showpiece in London, and playing before a crowd of 90,000 against either Real Madrid or Bayern again, would be a different occasion entirely.

Getting there would give Mbappe the chance to end his seven-year stay with the Qatar-owned outfit in the best possible way, as they look to win the Champions League for the first time in their history, and just the second time for a French club after Marseille in 1993.

Mbappe informed PSG in February of his intention to depart the Parc des Princes when his contract expires at the end of the season, ending a prolific association with his hometown team which began when he signed from Monaco in 2017.

Now 25 and the captain of France, Mbappe has become the Parisians’ all-time top scorer with 255 goals in 305 appearances so far, including 43 this season alone.

He has 48 in the Champions League - a tally which includes six with Monaco in his breakthrough 2016/17 campaign - and Tuesday’s second leg against Dortmund would be the ideal time for him to bring up the half-century.

Luis Enrique’s team did not produce their best performance in losing 1-0 in Germany last week, and the pressure is on them as favourites to turn the tie around at home.

However, a repeat of what happened when they hosted Dortmund in the group stage last September will suffice - on that occasion they won 2-0, with Mbappe netting the first goal from the penalty spot.

“We are sure we are going to turn it around and qualify for the final,” Mbappe told several media including AFP on Sunday on the sidelines of an event on the French capital’s famed Champs-Elysees.

“There is a lot of pressure on us, which is normal because there is a place in the Champions League final at stake.

“All the more so when you know about this club’s past in the competition.”

Defensive dilemma

PSG were not necessarily expected to get as far as the semi-finals this season, with the squad undergoing a major overhaul following the departures of Lionel Messi and Neymar at the end of the last campaign.

They had gone out in the last 16 in five of the last seven seasons, frequently failing in spectacular fashion in that time.

Before this season, and since the Qatari takeover of the club in 2011, PSG had won nine Champions League knockout ties in total.

Five of those came behind closed doors in the Covid era, including two ties played as one-off games on neutral turf in Lisbon in 2020.

This season’s draw has been as kind as it could be, with Real Sociedad ideal opponents in the last 16 and Dortmund the best they could have wished for in the semi-finals.

However, their performance in overturning a first-leg deficit to defeat Barcelona in the last eight is not to be dismissed.

While all eyes will, as usual, be on Mbappe, the key to PSG’s chances of recovering from another first-leg loss when they face Dortmund may be in defence.

They suffered a huge blow when Lucas Hernandez ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while trying to stop Niclas Fuellkrug’s goal in Dortmund. He is set to be out for many months.

In addition, left-back Nuno Mendes, who has himself not long returned from a lengthy spell out, had a torrid time up against Jadon Sancho at the Signal Iduna Park.

Mendes will still almost certainly start at the Parc des Princes, while Danilo Pereira looks the most likely option to partner skipper Marquinhos at centre-back.

“We know how strong we are at the Parc. Nothing is finished, everything is open,” Marquinhos said after the first leg.

One other factor in favour of PSG, who have already wrapped up the French title, might be freshness - their weekend league game at Nice was postponed to help them prepare.

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Dortmund's German forward Niclas Fuellkrug celebrates after scoring a goal during the Uefa Champions League semi-final first leg football match against Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in Dortmund on May 1. Image Credit: AFP

Mind the ‘Gap’

Dortmund striker Niclas Fuellkrug is on the brink of a Champions League final appearance at Wembley, just two years after plying his trade in the German second division.

The 31-year-old netted the only goal of last week’s first leg, giving Dortmund hope of a first final in the competition since losing to rivals Bayern Munich in 2013, also at Wembley.

Contrasted with the glamour of PSG and their hometown superstar Mbappe, the workmanlike Fuellkrug is cast in the image, not only of the current iteration of the team under Dortmund-born coach Edin Terzic, but the club’s broader identity itself.

While Dortmund remain underdogs against cash-rich PSG despite their slender advantage, Fuellkrug has experience in overcoming the odds.

A late bloomer who did not play Champions League football until this season, Fuellkrug’s hopes of reaching his full potential were undermined by a string of serious injuries.

Four times in his career he has missed more than half a season’s worth of games, most notably from 2019 to 2020 when he tore an anterior cruciate ligament.

Fuellkrug represented Germany consistently at youth level, but did not make his senior national team debut until 2022, when he was just three months shy of 30.

He has 11 goals in 15 games - a testament to his quality in a Germany side which has regularly failed to impress recently.

Fuellkrug joined Dortmund last August from Werder Bremen, where he had won the previous season’s Bundesliga top scorer trophy.

A Bremen academy product, Fuellkrug - nicknamed ‘Luecke’ (‘Gap’) for his missing front tooth - bounced around several clubs before returning in 2019. He played a key role in Bremen’s promotion back to the top flight in 2021-22.

With Euro 2024 on the horizon, Fuellkrug is Germany’s first-choice striker. He was the only member of Dortmund’s squad to get called up for the recent Germany friendlies by coach Julian Nagelsmann.

Former Juventus and Italy striker Alessandro Del Piero lavished praise on Fuellkrug after the PSG first leg, saying he was “on another level”.

“He’s not that fast, not that strong, but he’s so effective. He’s underestimated,” Del Piero, now a TV pundit, told CBS.

“He’s a real threat in the penalty area. He’s a real striker.

“We saw his goal, but in the first half he has an opportunity to shoot, but he calmly gives the ball to Marcel Sabitzer. A wonderful pass.”

‘It means nothing yet’

While not many people expected either Dortmund or Fuellkrug to be in the Champions League semi-finals even a few months ago, the striker said he always believed in himself and the team.

“If I couldn’t imagine it, I don’t think I’d be here playing Champions League and playing for the national team,” he said.

“But I’m very happy to be here because we as a team deserve to be in the semi-finals.

“It’s good to be 1-0 up but it means nothing yet. We need to work well this week to be prepared for the second leg.”

Champions League winners Dortmund do have some experience of going deep in the competition.

Both Mats Hummels and Marco Reus, who announced on Friday he would leave the club at the end of the season, played for Dortmund in the 2013 final.

Niklas Suele was on the victorious Bayern Munich side which beat PSG in the 2020 showpiece.

The pressure will be on Paris on Tuesday.

The freshly crowned Ligue 1 champions’ main goal under their Qatari owners has been to lift Champions League, while Mbappe’s expected exit has raised the stakes.

A win or a draw in Paris will take Dortmund, who are fifth in the Bundesliga, through to the final, the next stop in an unlikely journey for both the club and their gap-toothed striker.