Football: Lyon, France’s faded force, can still roar in Europe

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LISBON: Lyon’s days as France’s dominant team have become a distant memory with the emergence of Paris Saint-Germain, but their European pedigree shows that they are not to be underestimated in the quarter-finals of the Saturday’s Champions League (August 15) against Manchester City.

Really, being at the “Final Eight” in Lisbon is a bonus for Rudi Garcia’s team.

They produced one of their famous European results by knocking out Italian champions Juventus in the last round on away goals, establishing the free kick of a draw against Pep Guardiola’s side.

The city knows from recent experience that Lyon is not to be taken lightly.

The teams met in the group stage last season, with Lyon inflicting a rare home loss to Guardiola’s side in the 2-1 victory at the Etihad Stadium. They followed that up by bringing France back 2-2.

Nonetheless, that was almost two years ago now, and the Lyon squad in that last meeting included three key players who have since left.

Captain Nabil Fekir, who was part of the French team that won the 2018 World Cup, has been sold to Betis, while midfielder Tanguy Ndombele has left for Tottenham Hotspur and left-back Ferland Mendy is now at Real Madrid.

They also have a different trainer.

Bruno Genesio is now working in China and, after a brief experience with former Brazilian defender Sylvinho, Garcia is at the helm.

However, his past link with Marseille has meant that it has never been a popular meeting place and poor performances in the league have done nothing to make him loved by supporters.

Lyon, the second richest club in France, was seventh when the Ligue 1 season ended in early April, with 10 game rounds not played, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They returned to action with a penalty shoot-out loss to PSG in the Coupe de la Ligue final in July, meaning an eight-year drought continues and Lyon must win the Champions League for be back in Europe next season.

“WE ARE THE OUTSIDERS”

A first campaign without European football in 24 years therefore seems likely, with either Bayern Munich or Barcelona on their way to the semi-finals if they see City.

“We wanted to go to the ‘Final Eight’ in Lisbon and here we are,” Garcia said after ousting Juventus.

“We’re the underdogs now but that’s fine with us. ”

Only once before have Lyon passed this stage: in 2009/10, they beat Liverpool at Anfield in the group stage, knocked out Real Madrid in the last 16 games and then beat Bordeaux before losing to Bayern in the half. final.

Before that, in the middle of their streak of seven successive national league titles, Lyon had lost in the quarterfinals three consecutive years between 2004 and 2006.

Next, Brazilian midfielder Juninho was their star player, frequently scoring brilliant free kicks. He is now their sports director, and it is thanks to him that Lyon unearthed a new Brazilian jewel at the beginning of the year.

Bruno Guimaraes is an elegant midfielder, only 22 years old but capable of playing games, as he did in the 1-0 victory over Juventus just before football came to a halt due to the pandemic. Juninho believes his compatriot will become “one of the best in the world”.

Lyon have other potential winners, including Dutch striker Memphis Depay. They are also convinced that a corner has been turned since the restart.

“The players know that we have a talented team but before, they did not play well together,” said Juninho.

“But with the right mindset, they can do great things. ”

Beating City would fall into that category, and they already have.

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