“We played a good season, we made it to the semifinals in the Champions League, which is a great achievement,” Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann said. “We’re proud of that. We’re frustrated, of course, but we will gather new power ahead of next season.”
In only its second Champions League appearance, Leipzig made it to the last four after eliminating last year's runner-up Tottenham in the round of 16, and Atlético Madrid — a two-time finalist in recent years — in the quarterfinals.
It was a big underdog against both those opponents after qualifying from a theoretically weak group that included Lyon, Benfica and Zenit St. Petersburg. “We talked about what we could’ve done better, but we just wanted to savor being here,” Leipzig striker Yussuf Poulsen said. “We are proud of what we’ve achieved all season long and we know what we have to do better.”
Leipzig was never in contention against PSG’s high-profile squad led by Neymar and Kylian Mbappé. It didn't threaten with its high-pressing style and couldn’t come back from conceding an early set-piece goal at Benfica’s Stadium of Light.
“We won’t be the first team not to stop Neymar and we won’t be the last,” Nagelsmann said. “As a coach you think about the next challenges. There’s a lot of positive things we take with us. The attitude of my players was great. We showed character on the pitch, but you have to accept when the opponent is stronger.”
Leipzig will be back in the Champions League next season thanks to its third-place finish in the Bundesliga. “We want to be back and experience the same again in the Champions League next season,” said Nagelsmann, the youngest coach to make it to the Champions League semifinals at 33. “Now it’s time for vacations for my players before coming together as a team and getting ready for next season.”
Leipzig’s great run came despite the loss of top scorer Timo Werner to Chelsea ahead of the quarterfinals. Now there is talk about the team possibly losing more players ahead of the new season. Patrik Schick and Dayot Upamecano could be among the players sought after by other clubs after impressive performances. The club has already said that the Champions League run doesn't mean it would start spending far more than it has until now.
Leipzig signed South Korean foward Hwang Hee-Chan last month to make up for the absence of Werner, but he was not eligible to play in the Champions League this season. Hwang was the 17th transfer from Austrian side Salzburg, which is also backed by Red Bull.
Leipzig was created only 11 years ago with backing from the drinks company, which bought the license rights from fifth-tier club SSV Markranstaedt and financed the new team’s steady promotion through the lower leagues in Germany. It made it to the Bundesliga for the first time in 2016.
“What a season we’ve had,” American forward Tyler Adams said on Twitter. “So proud of everything we’ve achieved. Unfortunately the (Champions League) adventure ends here but we’ll be back."
AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth contributed to this story from Düsseldorf, Germany.
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