It was telling that when Barcelona won a free kick from a good shooting range in the 87th minute of the second leg of their round of 16 Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain at the Camp Nou on Wednesday, there was only man on the ball: Neymar. It was a surprise that Lionel Messi was nowhere in the vicinity even though he remains the main free-kick taker for the side while Neymar takes them only occasionally.

The match was slipping fast from Barcelona’s hands and with barely three minutes of normal time left the Catalans still needed three goals to evade the inevitable. Perhaps it was hopelessness from Messi. Or more likely it was an acknowledgement of the imperious night Neymar was having that he left the inviting free-kick for the Brazilian.

Clutch Neymar

And Neymar delivered, like he did all through the night. In another show of magnanimity from Messi – or the above mentioned acknowledgment – Neymar took and converted the penalty three minutes after the free kick to bring Barcelona within a goal of an improbable win.

It was symbolic of the ethereal night that it was Neymar who beautifully lobbed the ball in the last seconds of extra time to assist Sergi Roberto’s tie-winning goal. The position from which that ball was lobbed and also the manner of it was quintessential Messi. But on the night it was all Neymar.

The Camp Nou has seen many astonishing results over the years; there was the “La Manita” over Real Madrid in what was Jose Mourinho’s first season in charge of Los Blancos, then a 3-0 evisceration of the venerated Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in the 2015-‘16 European campaign, and there was the historic 4-0 drubbing of AC Milan when the Catalans were looking to overhaul a 2-0 deficit from the first leg in the 2012-‘13 Champions League. The one common thread from all those historic wins – and many more – has been Messi’s heroics.

And when Barcelona were up against the proverbial mountain as they took on Paris Saint-Germain at the Camp Nou last night, he was deemed to be the biggest hope if Barcelona stood any chance at prolonging their Champions League run this campaign.

The Messi-Neymar bonding

However, as Messi endured a relatively subdued night by his own high standards, his forward compatriot Neymar ran the proceedings, assuring the club faithful that they can count on more than just the diminutive Argentine to rescue them from the deepest of troughs.

It would be disingenuous to give all the credit to Neymar for it was a great team effort on the night that will surely go down as one of the most improbable ones in European football, but the Brazilian was indeed the standout performer.

Not just in the Camp Nou leg but also at the Parc des Princes. In the first leg where barely any of the Barcelona players covered themselves in glory, and it was largely the stupendous goalkeeping of Marc Andre ter Stegen that helped the Catalans stave off a tennis score, it was Neymar who at least seemed to be trying. He made some scything runs and tried distant shots – albeit with no luck – to emerge with some credit from the forgettable encounter.

And now with his illuminating performance on Wednesday night, Neymar has indicated that he is finally ready to emerge from Messi’s shadows – and every Barcelona player over the last decade will attest to its enormity – to possibly be the fulcrum of attack if the Argentine is having an off day.

When Neymar signed for Barcelona in the summer of 2013, the club patriarch, Johann Cruyff, had predicted that the team would struggle to accommodate two great attacking players who essentially prefer the same position on the field. However, the close friendship and mutual respect for each other’s skills as well as the implicit – as well as explicit – acknowledgment from Neymar of Messi being the top dog meant that the two have bonded extremely well on the pitch and off it.

Messi’s magnanimity in overtly trying to lay on goalscoring opportunities for Neymar, to say nothing of the Argentine actively letting him take penalties, has left no doubt that there has been no rivalry between the duo.

Rejoice, Barca, for you have another saviour

But Messi has been the undisputed number one. He has risen to the occasion whenever needed and has been the guiding light when the going has been tough. Just this season, his goals have been the difference in close wins over Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia and Leganes to count just a handful.

However, on the evidence of last night Barcelona can count on another saviour when they run into brick walls. Neymar, to borrow a line from Gerard Pique, will provide Barcelona fans with plenty of nights of extended love-making.

Neymar, still only 25, has been the main man for the Brazil national team for quite some time now and it was impressive the way he handled the enormous pressure of the 2014 World Cup at home at just 23. The fact that he scored in every Champions League fixture quarter-finals upwards in the successful 2014-’15 campaign have been enough evidence of his mentality as well as undoubted talent.

Yet, it may just be Wednesday night that finally sees Neymar emerge as not just an understudy but a Messi equal.