When Paris Saint-Germain needed him the most, Zlatan Ibrahimovic came up big to secure a 2-1 win over FC Nantes at the Stade de la Beaujoire, one that sends Laurent Blanc's side to the Coupe de la Ligue final. The talismanic Swede netted a spectacular early opening goal and a dramatic late winner to seal victory for a PSG side that were not at their best in western France on Tuesday night.
Olivier Veigneau's 81st-minute equaliser had looked like it would force extra time, but brave Nantes were ultimately denied by Ibrahimovic’s sheer brilliance. In only the fifth minute of the match, the towering striker produced an outrageous piece of magic that was worthy of winning any football match. A first-time lobbed finish following the hosts' goalkeeper Remy Riou's miscued clearance immediately swung the game in the capital side's favour.
For a long time it looked as if it would be enough too, until Veigneau finally gave Nantes the reward that their hard work and determination had deserved on the night. Yet Ibrahimovic was not done, placing a perfect header past Riou at the death to secure a narrow 2-1 win. The 32-year-old's two goals were his 30th and 31st in all competitions this season, but few have been as valuable considering that PSG were staring Coupe de la Ligue elimination in the face at that point.
Key to Ibrahimovic's late winner though was Brazilian Lucas Moura. Without the Selecao star, the towering striker would not have been able to rise above Oswaldo Vizcarrondo to nod home.
- Report: Nantes 1-2 PSG
Starting again following his good showing against Girondins de Bordeaux on Friday where he provided two assists, Lucas lofted in an inch-perfect cross from the right for Ibra to head home to secure the 2-1 win. Profiting from the absence of Edinson Cavani, the 21-year-old made another important contribution and should now be rightly considered by Blanc as the better option when compared with Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore and Jeremy Menez.
Despite Ibrahimovic's incredible performance though, PSG were lacking in a number of departments on a night where emotions ran high.
Complacency has started to seep into the French champions performances of late and the 2-1 Coupe de France home defeat to Montpellier HSC and the 1-1 draw away to EA Guingamp in Ligue 1 are beginning to look less and less like one-offs. After scoring early on and missing a gilt-edged first-half chance through the once-again profligate Lavezzi, PSG took their foot off the gas in the second, allowing Nantes to carry their momentum from the first 45 into the second.
Blanc's men nearly paid dearly for that, with Veigneau's equaliser the least Les Canaris deserved on a night when they could and should have had at least one penalty.
One of the culprits in question for his first half foul on Nantes' Serbian attacker Filip Djordjevic was captain Thiago Silva. The hosts' star man troubled the Brazilian international all night and rarely has the 29-year-old looked so flustered and vulnerable in his time with the French champions. While Marco Verratti's goal line clearance was only debatable, Silva's manhandling of Djordjevic would not have looked out of place in a wrestling ring and PSG can consider themselves fortunate on reflection.
Blanc will have more than Silva's unconvincing showing to bear in mind between now and April's Stade de France final thanks to another shaky display from reserve goalkeeper Nicolas Douchez.
The 33-year-old was a constant worry for the side from the capital and has failed to provide a reassuring presence between the sticks on a number of occasions this season. Taking the tough decision to bench the veteran, and going against the unspoken rule in France of playing the reserve goalkeeper in cup competitions, might be the difference between success and failure against Olympique Lyonnais or ESTAC Troyes.
Despite those concerns though, PSG have reached the Coupe de la Ligue final and done exactly what was expected of them. A domestic treble was the aim at the start of the season and although that is no longer possible, a double would still represent excellent progress and continues to be a realistic aim. Besides, a treble including the UEFA Champions League is also still possible at this point.
Crucially, extra time was avoided ahead of Sunday's mammoth Ligue 1 clash with AS Monaco in the principality. Ibrahimovic's outstanding efforts meant that Cavani was not missed on the night at the Stade de la Beaujoire, but the question will be how much securing that 2-1 win over Nantes has taken out of the players ahead of this weekend.
For now though PSG have reached their first Coupe de la Ligue final since 2008, the year that they almost got relegated from Ligue 1, and should savour the moment.