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Zlatan hat-trick fires PSG into French Cup final

Paris: A Zlatan Ibrahimovic hat-trick fired Paris Saint-Germain to a 4-1 French Cup semi-final victory over Saint-Etienne at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday as their epic quest for a four-trophy sweep continued apace.

Paris Saint-Germain's Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring a goal during the French Cup semi-final football match Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) vs Saint-Etienne (ASSE) in Paris. Pic/AFP
Paris Saint-Germain's Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring a goal during the French Cup semi-final football match Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) vs Saint-Etienne (ASSE) in Paris. Pic/AFP 

Ibrahimovic's opener from the penalty spot on the 21st minute was his 100th goal for the club, he then rounded the 'keeper on 81 for the second, and completed his hat-trick with a fine run and shot in injury-time.

But an injury-depleted Paris had to fight for long periods of this gutsy Cup tie as Saint-Etienne drew level with a Romain Hamouma header, going in 1-1 at half-time before an Ezequiel Lavezzi header put PSG back ahead on 60.

Saint-Etienne coach Christophe Galtier praised Swede Ibrahimovic as "the greatest foreigner to have played in France" as he lamented his side's inability to match PSG's pounding artillery. PSG have scored 11 times against Saint-Etienne in four matches this season of which eight have come off Ibrahimovic's boot. - 'war machine' - "There's nothing to say, at this level they are unbeatable, in any case for us," said Galtier.

"They had the perfect match, in intensity, technical plan, determination. It's never good to take on this type of team so near the final. "I'm disappointed for my players that they weren't able to go all the way in this adventure. But that's all, there was too big a difference. "They are a war machine. They were superior on all levels." PSG now face second division Auxerre, who beat holders Guingamp 1-0 on Tuesday, in the Cup final at the Stade de France on May 30.

Paris also take on Bastia in the League Cup final at the same venue on Saturday, face Barcelona in Paris in the Champions League quarter-finals first-leg next Wednesday and they lead Ligue 1 by a single point from Lyon. No French club has ever clinched the domestic treble. "As long as we're in the running on four fronts, we're thinking about this quadruple, but nothing is won yet," said PSG coach Laurent Blanc.

"They aren't machines. You get used to the players scoring two or three goals per match. They also have the right to be a little tired. Zlatan was tired against Marseille (last weekend). "They are an exceptional group of players and Zlatan is one of them. I'm proud to coach these boys. I've a fantastic group, with an enormous capacity to work."

With defender David Luiz, midfielder Thiago Motta, and forwards Edinson Cavani and Lucas all ruled out through injury, coach Laurent Blanc also rested Blaise Matuidi with a packed calendar of matches coming PSG's way. The giant Swede converted his spot-kick with aplomb after Lavezzi had been tugged from behind and the referee awarded a generous penalty.

But Saint-Etienne stormed back at the Parisians and were level four minutes later when Hamouma's glancing header from a free-kick curled beyond 'keeper Nicolas Douchez at the near post. Mevlut Erding should then have given the visitors the lead after 32 minutes, but he hesitated when through on Douchez, who deflected his tardy shot to safety. Lavezzi then ran onto a sumptuous cross from Pastore just after the hour and rose alone on the edge of the six-yard box, his looping header leaving Stephane Ruffier rooted to the spot as the ball crept just inside his far post.

102nd goal
Ibrahimovic then calmed home nerves running onto a through ball to round the 'keeper and slot home into an empty net to send the stadium wild. His third goal was equally extravagant as his trademark dribble found him a glimmer of space to shoot home his 102nd goal for the club. Ibrahimovic becomes PSG's second top all-time scorer, seven shy of Pauleta's 109 goals.

Saint-Etienne 'keeper Stephane Ruffier kept his side in contention early in the first half as Paris came out all guns blazing, saving twice from Lavezzi and stopping a fierce Javier Pastore shot as a series of goal efforts zipped wide. On Tuesday second division Auxerre turned back the clock on past glories as they beat holders Guingamp 1-0. Relegated in 2012, Auxerre won a league and cup double under legendary coach Guy Roux in 1996 while also lifting the Cup in 1994, 2003 and 2005.

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