The Lyonnais delivered the performance they needed to keep their Champions League dream alive by beating Stuttgart 0-2 thanks to strikes from Fabio Santos and Karim Benzema. The two sides will meet again in a fortnight at Gerland.
2 goals to 0, a result that reflects OL’s domination and the fact that they never looked like losing. In fact the Olympiens’ game was of such high quality that one wonders how they managed to get off to such a bad start in this competition; OL’s win on German soil was almost uncontested. With their backs to the wall, the Olympiens played the match they needed. Lyon never dies, especially when confronted with various contradictions: brilliant in France, terrible in Europe. Now the paradox is no more. Since the loss against Glasgow, Alain Perrin has insisted on tougher defence, and it seems the lesson has sunk in. Tonight, his rearguard completely contained the talented and unpredictable Stuttgart attack; his forwards created enough chances to take the match; his approach and attitude we flawless. Thus all the elements for a high-quality performance came together…
You don’t change a winning team. For the last 3 weeks, since they lost to Rangers, the Lyonnais have shone in L1 as well as with their national teams. So Alain Perrin fielded the same team that beat Bordeaux and Monaco (both 3-1 victories). The starting XI is the product of consistency and performance but also the absences of Fred (suspended) and Toulalan, who has a knee injury. The absence of the France international made his manager’s job even harder, and, as often happens in this situation, it was his replacement who got on the score sheet. OL hadn’t scored a single goal in the Champions League in 4 matches. But Fabio Santos hadn’t played in any of them… With his shot taking a slight deflection on the edge of the area, the Brazilian made the break (56’) and chased away the regrets that would surely have led OL to under-perform in the second half.
The French champions could have made the difference before the break, with both Karim Benzema (40’) and Sidney Govou (45’) losing their one-on-ones with the Stuttgart keeper.
But they didn’t have any real concerns as everything had gone perfectly to that point. After 2 losses in a row, they were solid and conceded a minimum of chances. Despite being willing, the German champions weren’t so able and waited until the 18th minute before Vercoutre was called into action for the first time, as Bastürk let fly a header that flew well over. The OL keeper did have some serious saves to make however from Pardo (21’) and Farnerud (35’). Gomez fired wide (25’).
But the German champions aren’t ranked 14th in the Bundesliga without reason; VfB and OL are currently on very different domestic trajectories. After easily containing Armin Veh’s men’s opening salvos, the Olympiens imposed their rhythm as they took hold of the match. Crosses from Réveillère (14’) and Juninho (19’) found no takers. Cleber Anderson (19’) and Govou (55’) weren’t on target and Schäfer punched clear efforts from Kim Källström (22’) et Benzema (71’).
After the first goal, Stuttgart seemed poised to strike back but the Lyonnais easily checked their efforts. Rémy Vercoutre saved imperiously (65’ and 90’) and Gomez saw his shot escape him (74e).
And things got better for the Olympiens, who killed the match off towards the end, with Benzema scoring his 14th goal of the season in all competitions, and his 12th for OL. The OL number 10 was put through by a defence-splitting pass from Kader Keita and a cheeky back-heel from Sidney Govou (79’). In stoppage time, Kader Keita could have widened the score line but the German keeper saved his sides blushes with a fine save (90’).
In Glasgow, Barça and Rangers shared the points (0-0). The Lyonnais would certainly have preferred that the Catalans win the match, but at least the worst-case scenario of a Scottish victory was avoided – OL still has hope in the competition. They will meet Stuttgart again in a fortnight at Gerland, when victory will once again be imperative!