Les Lyonnais produced another quality European performance on Tuesday evening, drawing 2-2 away to Real Madrid...
Injuries worries alone have made Gérard Houllier’s job that much more difficult. With Sidney Govou and Sylvain Wiltord missing, François Clerc earned a starting role on the right side of the midfield, while John Carew led the line in the continued absence of Karim Benzema and Fred. And the giant Norwegian’s first touches confirmed he has rediscovered his best form. Controlling the ball perfectly with his back to goal, he began to run at the Madrid defence. Memories of his unstoppable debut in a Lyon shirt came flooding back as he dashed past Cannavaro before beating Casillas to score his second goal of the season (11’).
The star of Lyon’s bright start, Carew released Tiago, but this time the Real ‘keeper won his battle against the Portugal midfielder (17’). Carew was on fire and his check inside Helguera could have led to a second goal was it not for Cannavaro’s desperate return (26’).
The opening exchanges confirmed the impression left from the opening match of the Champions League campaign: Lyon are a force to be reckoned, and better than Real Madrid. Even denied their traditional attacking weapons, Gérard Houllier’s side dominated proceedings against a Real team overwhelmed by the pace of the visitors’ attacks. Lyon’s solidarity and ability to lift as a team was on full display and confirmed, once again, the side’s ability to withstand the rigours of a demanding season. Carew was untenable and it was a foul on the former Valencia striker that led to the second goal. Juninho planted his free-kick into the danger area where Florent Malouda was on hand to turn the ball home and double the mark (31’).
It was difficult to see just how Real could turn the battle back in their favour. While hardly looking a coherent unit, Real were dangerous when they did get forward: Raul headed wide (16’), Roberto Carlos shot into the stands of the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu (17’) and Reyes forced Grégory Coupet into an alert double save (35’). And then it came: from a header back across the face from Ruud van Nistelrooy, Djila Diarra reduced the margin and also ended Lyon’s defensive invincibility in this season’s Champions League (38’).
Real Madrid emerged for the second half with wounded pride and seemed intent on finally taking the match to their guests. Sergio Ramos (49’) and then Robinho (56’) both called Coupet into action. But that was all that came.
Unable to break down the Lyon backline, the Real players were forced to watch as John Carew ran rings around Cannavaro and Helguera. The Norwegian continued to offer a series of unexpected treats for the travelling supporters as he turned on the skill, a constant danger every time he touched the ball.
But of course, Real Madrid is still Real Madrid! From a Roberto Carlos free-kick, Raul headed against the post and the ball ran across the face and into the path of Ruud Van Nistelrooy who passed the ball into an empty net, tying the game at 2-2 (82’).
OL could even have left the Spanish capital empty handed had Coupet failed to keep out Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s penalty after the big Dutchman was fouled (?) by Cris (88’). Perhaps there is justice in football...
In pulling a draw out of the fire, Fabio Capello’s men avoided an embarrassing home defeat. Like last season, Real and Lyon ended all square, a result which assures the French champions of the top spot in group E. Les Olympiens could be happy with the result because it in no way detracts from another sumptuous performance. There is no longer any excuse for not accepting OL as one of Europe’s big clubs. And OL can now look with confidence towards the latter stages of this year’s competition…