With Neymar and Edinson Cavani fluffing their chances, unheralded left back Layvin Kurzawa starred with a second-half hat trick as Paris Saint-Germain routed Anderlecht 5-0 to reach the Champions League knockout stage on Tuesday.

Although Neymar scored a fine goal to put PSG 2-0 up just before halftime, the Brazil forward was otherwise largely erratic against a weak side that had lost the corresponding match 4-0 at home.

Cavani, PSG’s top scorer last season with 49 goals and 15 so far this term, wasted his best chance from a first-half header, got the ball trapped between his legs on one occasion and then saw another shot blocked.

Kurzawa had three chances and took each with aplomb, showing the scoring instincts he once had as a striker in his junior days before converting to defense.

“This hat trick gives me a huge amount of pleasure; it’s the first of my professional career,” Kurzawa said. “I was surprised because I’m a defender. I’ve scored goals before, but three is a lot.”

PSG, which is unbeaten this season, squandered five clear scoring opportunities before Marco Verratti opened the scoring in the 30th minute with a well-taken effort.

Neymar, after fluffing his earlier shots, made it 2-0 deep into first-half stoppage time with a fine strike from the edge of the penalty area.

Then it was Kurzawa’s turn to shine in a star-studded side that is desperate to prove it belongs among Europe’s elite after failing to go beyond the quarterfinal stage in the past five seasons.

He added the third goal after 52 minutes, when Neymar’s free kick hit the post and bounced up to him, and then scored the fourth after Neymar and countryman Dani Alves combined to set him up with a telling cross in the 72nd.

Just six minutes later, the France international drilled the ball into the bottom right corner from inside the penalty area after substitute Angel Di Maria inadvertently rolled the ball perfectly into his path as he forayed toward goal.

PSG has won its four matches so far in Group B — scoring 17 goals while conceding none — and is three points clear of Bayern Munich. The German champion joined PSG in the knockout stages after winning 2-1 away to Scottish champion Celtic.

Layvin Kurzawa
Layvin Kurzawa
“We’ve set ourselves a target of not conceding any goals, and at the moment we’re scoring a lot and not conceding,” Kurzawa said. “We’re through but our goal is to finish first in the group.”

PSG almost scored after 33 seconds when Kylian Mbappe’s defense-splitting pass found Neymar, but goalkeeper Frank Boeckx blocked his angled shot.

Neymar missed another when casually swiping at the ball near the penalty spot from Mbappe’s pass. Germany winger Julian Draxler and Mbappe had shots saved and Cavani headed wide — all inside a breathless 20 minutes.

When the pressure finally told, it was a rare goal from Verratti.

Neymar and Mbappe combined, with the latter’s pass finding Verratti lurking inside the left of the area. The Italy midfielder steadied himself before curling the ball into the top right corner.

Neymar, the world’s most expensive player when he cost 222 million euros ($260 million) from Barcelona, missed an easy pass to a teammate and wasted another scoring chance at 1-0.

But in the fourth minute of first-half injury time he played a short corner, swapped a pass with Draxler, advanced across the edge of the area and then drove in an unstoppable shot.

After missing again, Neymar hit the post with a free kick from 25 meters out and Kurzawa followed up well to athletically flick the ball home.

Kurzawa again showed a forward’s instincts, flinging himself to head home after Alves had volleyed Neymar’s long pass back across the area. Substitute Giovani Lo Celso missed it, but Kurzawa was well placed to profit.

Source: AP