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Di Maria seeks more Stadium of Light glory

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PSG’s Angel di Maria (right) shoots and scores a goal during their UEFA Champions League semi-final against Leipzig at the Stadium of Light in Lisbon, Portugal. PHOTO: AFP

Angel di Maria is somewhat in the shadows of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe but in reality just as important in this attacking trio for Paris Saint-Germain.
And their Champions League final today in Lisbon’s Stadium of Light against Bayern Munich is even more special for him than his partners up front.
Argentina winger di Maria played in the stadium during his three years at Benfica 2007-2010, and returned in 2014 to win the Champions League there with Real Madrid against cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid.
That victory was Real’s 10th as they ended a 16-year title drought with La Decima.
Now, six years on and at age 32, he is back again in the stadium, aiming to help PSG lift the trophy for the first time which would be as significant for him as the 2014 success.
“If we win it for the first time with Paris, we’ll become part of the club’s history. We’d always be remembered at the club because it would be the first European title,” Di Maria told the UEFA website.
“I won Real Madrid’s 10th title, which the club couldn’t win for years, and winning that 10th title was something amazing for Madrid — and I became part of the club’s history.
“Winning a first title here would be unforgettable for me personally, because that’s been my goal since I joined.”
Di Maria (and PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas should he be fit to play) aims to join a select group of players who have won the Champions League with more than one team.
At PSG since 2015, after an unsuccessful year at Manchester United, he has been instrumental in their strong run into the decider this season, with three goals and six assists so far.
After missing the quarter-final against Atalanta through suspension, Di Maria made his presence felt in the 3-0 semi-final victory against RB Leipzig, scoring the second goal and setting up Marquinhos and Juan Bernat for the other two at the Stadium of Light.
And while Neymar and Mbappe dazzled in that match it was Di Maria who was named man-of-the-match, just like in the 2014 final when he and not Cristiano Ronaldo took the same honour.
Like many others, di Maria has credited a new-found team spirit for PSG’s success, saying: “There’s been an incredible atmosphere since the beginning of the year and I think that’s the reason for everything we’ve won. We’re one step away from finishing an incredible year.”
But Di Maria is also aware that Bayern are “a tough team”, with the Germans having a very similarly often overlooked player within their ranks: Serge Gnabry.
Standing in the shadow of tournament top scorer Robert Lewandowski and the unique Thomas Mueller, Germany international Gnabry has scored nine of Bayern’s 42 Champions League goals, including two in their 3-0 semi-final win against Olympique Lyon.
Di Maria and Navas can meanwhile also become the second and third players who have won another Champions League after leaving Real Madrid, a feat so far only achieved by Dutchman Clarence Seedorf who added two titles with AC Milan to his 1998 success with Real.
The Marca sports newspaper remarked that neither Ronaldo, now at Juventus, nor the likes of Luis Figo, Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso or Alvaro Morata managed to lift the big-eared trophy again after leaving the Bernabeu.
Such a success would only add to the joy for di Maria in the stadium he knows so well.
“It would be very special, very important for me and my career. When they changed the venue (from Istanbul) to Lisbon, I had a strange feeling in my body that reminded me of the old times,” he said.

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