OL winning run will certainly come to an end one day. It’s a sure thing. One of these days the implacable law that decrees that all things must come to an end, will prove itself once again, at the hands of a team stronger, or luckier, than the 13 that have gone before…
Of course this latest triumph is of a different size to the 13 that have preceded it. This win assured OL’s European passage through the winter months. The two remaining Champions League matches against Real Madrid and Steaua Bucharest can change little. Even a loss by less than two goals to Real and a win versus Steaua will ensure OL go through top of the group. Les Lyonnais have, there is no doubt, the quality to do it. They proved it again tonight by imposing a fourth consecutive defeat on their Ukrainian rivals.
For several seasons Olympique Lyonnais have shined through to the spring months. To draw the best from his side, Gérard Houllier has become a past master at turnover. “Freshness” is the indispensable ingredient if his side’s success and at kick-off on Wednsday night, he had made another three changes to the side which defeated Nancy last Sunday. On the right, the pair consisting Clerc – Govou replaced that of Réveillère – Wiltord, while Karim Benzema was back leading the attack. And the young striker was the first to show his class. On the quarter-hour mark he combined perfectly with Sidney Govou on the edge of the penalty area to score a goal “made in Tola Vologe”, between two pure products of the club’s youth system (15’). After a neat one-two and a left-footed shot that beat Shovkovskiy at his near post, the youth international opened the scoring and signaled the start of a period of intense OL domintion.
Despite the unlimited attacks, Dynamo, to their credit, somehow managed to withstand their hosts constant offensives. From 20m out, Tiago stung the palms of the Ukrainian ‘keeper (16’). Benzema went within a whisker of getting on the end of François Clerc’s cross (29’). Govou, with two headers, tried to score his first goal of the 2006-07 season (30’, 33’). At the reception of a Juninho cross from the left, Tiago saw the ball spirited away by Mikhalik (32’). Florent Malouda then found the ‘keeper in his path (42’).
Despite wave after wave of attack, the worst defence in the Champions League somehow emerged at half-time with a more than flattering 0-1 deficit. Anatoli Demianenko had little to be pleased with, with only Mikhalik able to give the Stade Gerland faithful a scare when his effort flew into the outside of the side-netting of Grégory Coupet’s goal (24’).
Far from disrupting the rhythm of the match, the half-time break merely offered Dynamo a short respite. After the restart, Benzema had the chance to double the advantage but he fired over (51’), and then fluffed a shot from just two metres out (57’).
Having failed to make the break, Lyon were still at the mercy of a rare Ukrainian counter attack, and the visitors became more and more dangerous as the clock ticked down on their slender European chances. Faced with opponents growing in confidence and daring, the quintuple French champions were forced onto the back foot.
Rodrigo’s free-kick, punched clear by Coupet set the tone for a nervy final 20 minutes (70’). Lyon’s ‘keeper was even the player most on view in the closing stages. Forced to come and header clear outside his area (74’), he then comfortably claimed Rodrigo’s lob (75’) and Kleber’s point-blank header (81’) before watching as Milevskiy effort flashed just the wrong side of his upright (76’).
Sylvain Wiltord’s effort which flew high over the bar and Malouda’s shot off target offered little relief for the Gerland faithful who had ears only for the final whistle. For the third season in a row, the match ended with Lyon qualifying for the knockout stages of the competition after just four group games. And just as in 2005-06, they have four wins from four and will play the final group game away to Real Madrid at the Estadio Bernabeu. No longer concerned with the risks of an early exit, Lyon can calmly prepare their upcoming domestic and continental challenges with both certainty and serenity. The main point to be taken from this evening, is that winter at the Stade Gerland promises to be hot!