OL hadn’t won away from home in the Coupe de la Ligue since 2001. In Caen, the Lyonnais took their time but got the job done: they qualified for the quarter-finals, pulling clear in the final 15 minutes.
On the pitch at the Stade Michel d’Ornano, there was a gulf between OL and Caen, almost an entire division, to be exact. For half the match, it was plainly evident. For the other half, one was left hoping that the “magic” of cup competition wouldn’t meddle with the fortunes of Alain Perrin’s men. In the end, a margin of two goals allowed the champions of France to qualify almost unscathed by the Norman obstacle.
But for sure, it wasn’t all perfect! But the positives were enough to push aside a Caen outfit that had a lot more to lose, and to hang onto, in both Ligue 1 and the Coupe de la Ligue. It was always going to be tough for the Caennais to beat the Olympiens, but it was a task they undertook valorously and not without promise. Seeing Kader Keita finally shine in an OL shirt the way he did so often last season for Lille was cause for celebration among OL’s ranks. The Ivorian is one of the great beneficiaries of this victorious trip. His high-risk game always includes some waste, but tonight, the collateral damage was brushed aside by his first strike in an OL shirt after he latched onto a terrible back-pass from Florentin (16’). The goal could well put him back on track after a difficult start to the season.
In fact the former Lille man could have landed his first OL goal a few minutes earlier. He was the first to trouble Benoît Costil in the Caen goal, but his angled shot fizzed across the face of goal after he had been released into space by Sidney Govou. (16’).
The start of the match was largely in OL’s favour. Crosses from Nadir Belhadj and Anthony Réveillère found no takers (7’ and 10’). And when Fred, who spent long periods without the ball, isolated at the point of OL’s attack, managed to get onto the end of Govou’s opening, his header went agonisingly wide (11’). Nonetheless, the opening stages of the match clearly displayed OL’s superior individual and collective qualities.
With Cleber Anderson suspended and Juninho and Benzema left on the bench, not to mention a heap of injuries, OL seemed incredibly calm on their way to qualifying for the quarter-finals. But then the winning machine stalled. The Caennais began winning the ball higher and higher up the pitch and OL’s passing game lost some of its precision.
Sébastien Squillaci managed to get in the way of Grandin’s free kick (19’). Vercoutre easily accounted for Jemaa’s shot (20’). Then Squillaci’s header grazed the outside of the post… of Vercoutre’s goal (28’). And then the seemingly inevitable came to pass: the OL defence cracked under the sustained pressure. Latching onto a cross from Jemaa, Grandin skinned Réveillère with a deft touch and beat Vercoutre with a powerful shot (30’). Already having scored in the previous round, Grandin could even have handed his side a half-time lead but his free kick skidded just the wrong side of the post (38’).
From then on the match was a stop-start affair in which both sides took turns in leading the assaults. Fabio Santos’ pass into space was scooped up by Kader Keita but the Ivorian lost his one-on-one with the Norman keeper (50’). Fred thundering point-blank goal was rightly disallowed for off side (51’).
Franck Dumas’ players took their game to the next level to once again trouble the OL defence. But without being able to take the lead: Hengbart fired over (64’); Quellier and Thiam shot wide (69’ and 72’). But the Normans let their chance slip: from a Hatem Ben Arfa free kick, Mathieu Bodmer dealt his former side a savage blow, rising highest to head his team in front (75’).
And Karim Benzema, who came on for Fred in the 72nd minute, was once again on the score sheet, his 15th strike in 20 matches in all competitions this season! No, he doesn’t walk on water. He flies. Possible dissatisfied by not having scored earlier, having hit the post (79’) and missing by millimetres a cross from Squillaci (89’), the France international stamped his class all over the end of the match, lighting up the final 15 minutes with his strokes of genius. He took out the Caen keeper with a priceless feint then powered home into the empty net (90’). You just wonder what he’ll come up with next time!
OL now has to wait until tomorrow for the result of Niort versus Le Mans to know whom they will face in the quarter-final, and until Monday to see whether they will play the match at home. Two days beforehand, OL will have hosted Valenciennes in round 13 of L1. OL are now set for 3 home matches in a week; no time to catch their breath nor even to feel relieved.