PSG on perfect stage to show it can be a force in Europe

PSG's head coach Unai Emery talks to journalists during a news conference at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. Paris Saint Germain will play Real Madrid on Wednesday 14 in a Champions League Round of 16 first leg soccer match. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

There couldn't be a better place or opponent for Paris Saint-Germain to show it is ready to take the next step to becoming a soccer powerhouse in Europe

MADRID — There couldn't be a better place or opponent for Paris Saint-Germain to show it is ready to take the next step to becoming a soccer powerhouse in Europe.

PSG will have the perfect chance to demonstrate its progress when it takes on Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Wednesday in a first-leg match in the last 16 of the Champions League.

"It's the perfect timing for this game because we want to continue to grow and this is a chance to show it," PSG coach Unai Emery said on Tuesday. "It's always good to play against a top club and we are playing against the reigning champions. It doesn't get any bigger than that."

Madrid, a 12-time European champion, has won the competition in three of the last four seasons.

PSG is on a mission to establish itself as a top contender among the European elite. The Qatari-funded club spent a record 222 million euros to get Neymar from Barcelona and boost its chances of finally succeeding in the Champions League. It has never made it past the semifinals of Europe's top club competition.

"The Champions League is special because it's the most difficult competition to win," Emery said. "I came to Paris to play games like this, and to win them. We want to play against the best players in the world."

PSG was eliminated by Real Madrid rival Barcelona at the same stage last season, collapsing 6-1 at Camp Nou Stadium after having won the first leg at home 4-0.

"Last season against Barcelona we probably had the best and worst games of the season," PSG defender Marquinhos said. "We need to learn from that and make sure that it doesn't happen again.

"Day after day, game after game, season after season, we are getting closer to our objectives and tomorrow (Wednesday) we want to take another step forward," Marquinhos said.

Before last year's astonishing collapse against Barcelona, PSG was eliminated in the quarterfinals in four straight seasons.

PSG and Madrid met in the group stage of the Champions League in 2015, with Madrid winning 1-0 at home and the teams drawing 0-0 in Paris.

"I'm expecting a really intense game," Emery said. "It's two teams with top-level players who can make the difference. We want to step up and play a great game."

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More AP Champions League coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/ChampionsLeague

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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