LISBON, Portugal (AP) – Emmanuel Macron was quick to appropriate France’s unexpected Champions League prowess for political gain.
“In Brussels, as on the ground”, tweeted the French president. “France and Germany, engines of Europe!”
The most powerful voices in the decision-making process of the European Union. And the last countries to participate in the continent’s premier football competition.
This has never happened before: two French teams in the Champions League semi-finals after two nights of incredible results in Lisbon. This is only the second time – after 1991 – since the first European Cup distribution in 1955 that no team from England, Italy or Spain has qualified for the last four.
Lionel Messi and Barcelona were sent to pack their bags after an 8-2 demolition by Bayern Munich on Friday. Then Lyon, the lowest ranked quarter-final, eliminated Manchester City, the most expensive team in the world, on Saturday.
On the way to a first European Cup final for Lyon, which finished seventh in the French pandemic championship, Bayern is five-time world champion on Wednesday. The night before, Paris Saint-Germain, which ended Atalanta’s fairytale race, will face the debutant of the knockout stage Leipzig, founded just 11 years ago.
You have to go back even longer to find a Champions League semi-final that didn’t feature Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. This has not happened since 2005.
Ronaldo, winner of the Champions League with Manchester United and Real Madrid, has not even visited this Portuguese city where his career was launched at Sporting. Juventus were knocked out in the round of 16 by a Lyon side who confused their national form to overtake the team which has won nine Italian titles in a row.
It signals a resurgence for Lyon, which swept away seven French titles from 2002 to 2008 before the rise of PSG, with more than $ 1 billion in player spending funded by Qatar since 2011, transforming the dynamics of the League. 1. Seven of the last eight national titles have been won by PSG.
But Kylian Mbappé is delighted with Lyon’s musculature in the top flight, allowing the PSG striker to use it to cut down on the quality and status of Ligue 1.
“FARMERS LEAGUE,” tweeted Mbappé in all caps alongside emojis of a clown face and applause, tagging on Lyon’s Twitter account after the 3-1 victory over City.
With Pep Guardiola – twice winner of the Champions League as Barcelona coach – foiled by Rudi Garcia of Lyon, the last of the managerial heavyweights came out of this mini-tournament.
Diego Simeone, who lost two Champions League finals with Atletico Madrid, was sent off by Leipzig on Wednesday. The final 16 saw Leipzig mastermind Julian Nagelsmann take the victory over Tottenham from 2019 finalist Jose Mourinho. The same leg saw Jürgen Klopp’s title defense end at Atletico. Zinedine Zidane’s hopes of a fourth title were thwarted by Guardiola’s City in the last 16.
A manager is therefore guaranteed to lift the European Cup for the first time next Sunday. And what is rare for football, the coaches of the semi-finals are all from the countries represented by the remaining teams.
Three of the four are German. Hansi Flick from Bayern, Thomas Tuchel from PSG and Nagelsmann from Leipzig.
“It is clear that it is beautiful for German football,” Nagelsmann said. “Coaching education in Germany is good. I enjoyed a good learning as a trainer and was happy with what I learned along the way.
Nagelsmann took his first coaching advice from Tuchel, with whom he worked in Augsburg before leading Hoffenheim to the Champions League for the first time.
“I always think back to the words that said German football would be left behind on the international stage because we mainly had German coaches,” Nagelsmann said. “And now everything is fine. Of course, this is not the case either. But we shouldn’t be living in extremes.
At 33, Nagelsmann is said to be the youngest coach to win club football’s biggest prize.
“A German coach will definitely be in the final,” he said. “For sure.”
It was a shared trip for Leipzig and Lyon. They took both qualifying places in the same four-team group after being the lowest-ranked teams, behind Zenit Saint Petersburg and Benfica, whose stadium will host the final.
It should have been held in Istanbul and in May. It’s not just the dates and location that have been hastily changed. Just like the format, transforming the dynamics of the competition.
The quarter-finals and semi-finals are condensed into 10 days in neutral Lisbon, instead of being spread over two months with home and away matches, to ensure the competition can be over during the pandemic.
The disruption to football caused by the coronavirus has favored France and Germany. The English, Italian and Spanish leagues were only able to resume in June, so did not finish their national matches until late July or early August.
No wonder the players of the French and German teams are so much fresher as the eighth final tournament approaches.
The Bundesliga ended at the end of June. Ligue 1 has been downsized after playing its last matches in March as COVID-19 forced Europe to lock down. The only competitive French matches since then have been the two finals in July, and Lyon took PSG on penalties in the Coupe de la Ligue before losing.
“The head guides the legs – that hasn’t stopped some of my players from being exhausted,” Garcia said after Lyon oust City. “But in general, we recover better when we won, and it was a great victory for us and for French football. “
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Rob Harris is at https://twitter.com/RobHarris and https://instagram.com/RobHarrisPix