OL has finally got past the quarter final stage. After 4 successive defeats in the Champions League and Coupe de France, OL probably got more out of the game than qualification for the next round of the.
Even though they haven’t been forced to demonstrate their mental strength and their never-say-die attitude for some time, OL used these qualities anyway to devastating effect to eliminate a resistant Nancy side that succumbed in the last 15 minutes to the irresistible OL attacks.
At kick-off, however, the match was far fro ma foregone conclusion. The OL side charged with advancing to the next round had little in common with the eleven fielded by Gérard Houllier on October 29 against Nancy, save for the desire to win that every OL player shares. In fact only 4 OL players appeared in both games: Cris, Abidal, Toulalan and Malouda.
Despite this fact, the team only showed signs of difficulty adapting to the change of line-up for a few minutes before normal service was restored. With the exception of a jinking run down the right capped off with a cut-back cross from Govou (5’), most of OL’s play went through the left, where Kim Källström combined perfectly with Hatem Ben Arfa. From a free kick won by Ben Arfa, the Swede found Alou Diarra, whose header grazed Bracigliano’s right post (6’). After the Nancy defence failed to clear an Abidal free kick, Sidney Govou let rip with a left-footer (8’). Without finding an opening, Gérard Houllier’s men had the measure of the Nancy team whose few incursions in to the OL area allowed Rémy Vercoutre to establish himself in the game in the air (10’) and at the feet of Dosunmu (15’).
Throughout a first half they clearly dominated, Cris and his team-mates advanced again and again but couldn’t trip up the well-marshalled Nancy defence. Kim Källström (12’), Clerc (23’), Malouda (35’) and then Ben Arfa (44’) all tried their luck from distance without reward.
Hatem Ben Arfa ran rings around Sauget on the left wing, and in the 36th minute, sent in a cross that Malouda met so powerfully on the volley Bracigliano took two bites to grab it.
Dominated but still up to the task, Nancy confirmed their strong defensive reputation while demonstrating the same nerves in attack that was in evidence the last time they came to Gerland.
The second half began as the first one finished. Hatem Ben Arfa passed Sauget with a Cruyff check before putting Florent Malouda through. Outpacing Puygrenier, the Guyanan sent a thundering shot into the back of the net off the post (52’), his 10th goal of the season in all competitions.
It seemed that OL had finally made the break and that Nancy would have to thro itself into attack. It would take until the 65th minute to see signs of attacking life in Pablo Correa’s men, however. And the first sign was a good one, with Dosunmu passing his man and setting up Zerka, who triumphantly smashed home on the half-volley (65’).
OL could easily feel hard done by. They weren’t holding back in attack. . Cris saw his go centimetres wide (75’). Govou missed by a metre a centre from the mercurial Hatem Ben Arfa in the 75th minute. But there is surely justice in football. It seemed preordained that deliverance would come from a player some have mocked for an inability to score this season. After a one-two with Florent Malouda, Govou pounced on a mistake by Bracigliano to set Gerland alight and score his first goal since the victory over Le mans last season (78’).
Kim thought he had put his side ahead with its second chance (86’), but it was Hatem Ben Arfa, man of the match, who had the honour of cementing OL’s victory with a moment of inspiration. After a seeming tightrope act on the touchline, he crossed perfectly for Alou Diarra, alone in front of goal (90).
The Gerland fans chanted long and hard: “We’re in the semis”. OL goes on its merry way. Reminder: OL’s last semi final was in 2001. They went on to win the final in the Stade de France…
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