With a sweeping first-time shot, Antony fired Manchester United to a rousing 2-1 win over Barcelona.
The comeback victory at Old Trafford sent United into the Europa League round of 16 and kept manager Erik ten Hag’s four-pronged trophy hunt on track.
Antony might have silenced a few critics, too.
“He is brave, he is fearless,” Ten Hag said of the Brazil forward who cost United US$95-million for his transfer from Ajax last summer.
With United trailing 1-0 at halftime and heading out of the tournament, Antony came off the bench to turn the match around.
His 73rd-minute strike completed a come-from-behind win and provided further evidence that Ten Hag’s team is a rising force in Europe.
“What he brought [in the] second half was what we needed, running in behind and dribbles and his goal,” Ten Hag said.
Barcelona is leading the way in Spain, eight points ahead of Champions League holder Real Madrid and seemingly on course for the domestic title.
Yet, over two games against United, the Spanish giant was shaken by the pace and pressing of Ten Hag’s players.
“We lacked that calm and patience and started the second half really bad,” Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez said. “Small details. We could have been more intense.”
Robert Lewandowski’s first-half penalty had put the visitors in front on aggregate after the thrilling 2-2 draw in the first leg at the Nou Camp last week.
But Fred’s strike in the 47th evened the match before Antony’s winner.
In front of a raucous crowd of 73,000, this was the type of encounter United fans hope will become a regular occurrence under Ten Hag, whose outstanding first season in charge is improving by the week.
“This is another step because when you can beat Barcelona – one of the best teams in this moment in Europe – your belief can be really strong because then I think you are able to beat anyone,” Ten Hag added.
The Dutch manager is still in contention to win four trophies, with his team facing Newcastle in the League Cup final on Sunday.
United also sits third in the Premier League standings and is still in the FA Cup.
But Ten Hag’s team looked in danger of being eliminated from the Europa League as Barcelona seized the advantage at Old Trafford, with Bruno Fernandes involved in the two key incidents in the first half.
The Portugal international could have put United in front after just three minutes when he ran through on goal, only to fire against the legs of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Having failed to take advantage at one end, Fernandes was then guilty of dragging back Alejandro Balde in the box and referee Clement Turpin pointed to the spot.
Despite getting a hand to Lewandowski’s 18th minute penalty, David de Gea could not keep the ball out.
United struggled to find their rhythm before the break, but evened the score in an explosive start to the second half when Fred fired past Ter Stegen after Fernandes’s through ball.
Old Trafford was rocking and it went wild when Antony swept his shot low into the far corner to put United in front.
“We’ve had some good wins, Liverpool and Arsenal, but I think this over two legs – Barcelona are La Liga leaders – to beat them it’s a big win,” Ten Hag said.
HAT TRICK FOR DI MARIA
Angel Di Maria scored a hat trick as Juventus advanced in the Europa League playoffs by beating Nantes 3-0.
Juventus won 4-1 on aggregate to ensure another of Europe’s giants will play in the round of 16. World Cup winner Di Maria opened the scoring at Stade de la Beaujoire in the fifth minute and doubled the lead in the 20th from the penalty spot after Nicolas Pallois was sent off for a handball in the box.
The Argentine completed his hat trick in the 78th.
Sporting Lisbon also reached the next round after Pedro Goncalves scored twice in a 4-0 win at Midtjylland to secure a 5-1 aggregate victory.
Midtjylland’s Paulinho was sent off for receiving two yellow cards in the space of two minutes in the first half.
Bayer Leverkusen needed penalties to win an epic against Monaco after the score ended 5-5 on aggregate.
Monaco had won the first leg in Germany 3-2, but losing 3-1 going into the last 10 minutes at the Stade Louis II, it needed a Breel Embolo goal in the 84th to send the match into extra time.
But that only delayed Leverkusen’s celebrations as the German team won the shootout 5-3.
FAN ATTACKS SEVILLA GOALKEEPER
Sevilla goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovi was attacked by a fan who ran onto the field in the Spanish team’s game at PSV Eindhoven.
The fan threw a punch at Dmitrovi before being wrestled to the ground by the goalkeeper during the incident which happened late in the match at the PSV Stadium.
Dmitrovi appeared to be unhurt and the fan was quickly surrounded by players from both teams before being led off the field to jeers from the crowd.
Sevilla progressed despite losing 2-0 at PSV Eindhoven, advancing 3-2 on aggregate.
AJAX GOES OUT
While Ten Hag is looking forward to the next round, his former club Ajax is out after a 3-1 loss at Union Berlin.
Roma, meanwhile, recovered from a 1-0 first-leg loss at RB Salzburg to win 2-0 at Stadio Olimpico.
Andrea Belotti fired the home team in front in the 33rd and Paulo Dybala sealed a 2-1 aggregate scoreline five minutes before halftime.
Shakhtar Donetsk beat Rennes on penalties after a 2-1 loss through extra time left the score at 3-3 on aggregate.
Karl Toko Ekambi’s strike in the 52nd for Rennes meant the game had to go to extra time. Ibrahim Salah then put the home team up 2-0 before an own goal from Jeanuel Belocian sent it to a shootout which Shakhtar won 5-4.