OL's young guns handed the club a fine end to the first phase of the Europa League... a goal in each half... team play... effectiveness... and a very strong first half from Anthony Lopes were the hallmarks of this refreshing win...
It was a match with nothing at stake in sporting terms as the group phase drew to a close. While Shmona now turn their attentions back to domestic duties, OL will fight on in the Europa League. Three days before the derby, before next Wednesday's match with Nancy and a trip to the Parc des Princes on December 16, Rémi Garde logically chose to rest most of his big-name players. It was a chance for the youngsters, along with Monzon, B. Koné, Bastos and Gourcuff, players without much game time of late, to shine. The match saw youth academy defenders Zeffane and Sarr make their senior-team debuts, while it was a European debut for Anthony Lopes and the first time wearing the captain's armband for Fofana.
The first scoring chance fell for OL, when B. Koné got on the end of Gourcuff's corner only to see a defender clear the danger. Then, at the other end, Abuhazira's header flew just over Lopes' crossbar. There was no second-guessing in this enthusiastic start to the match. Some fine work from Benzia put Bastos in a scoring position (8') but the left-footed Brazilian couldn't find the target. Benzia drew a save from Amos as OL set up camp in Shmona's half. Sarr capped his senior-team debut with an unforgettable moment as he headed home from a Bastos cross to open the scoring in the 14th minute! A magnificent moment both for the young left-sided defender and for OL.
Kiryat Shmona struggled to keep their heads above water, losing precision in their game, but they did manage to trouble Lopes, who was forced into a fine save by Abuzahira (27') and who was once again up to the task as he plucked the ball from Israeli feet two minutes later. 'Antho' was on fire. OL lost a little of their dominance, but Lopes was still on top in his area, pulling out two incredible point-blank saves to preserve OL's lead (34'). The Portuguese 'keeper had once again saved his side's bacon. Kiryat were in total control in the second part of the first half... OL hardly saw any of the ball. But when Gourcuff won the ball back in midfield and linked up with Ferri before unleashing a missile at goal, it was only a superb save from Amos that kept the Israelis in the game. Still, OL took a 1-0 lead into the break, counting themselves lucky after Sallalich had hit the woodwork just before the half-time whistle blew.
Gourcuff was replaced by S. Koné as the second half kicked off, Ferri assuming playmaker duties in the middle. Kiryat had a huge chance to equalise... but it came to nothing thanks to B. Koné's timely intervention (54'). Then OL's razor-sharp striking paid off once again as Benzia hit the mark (58') as Shmona 'keeper Amos misread a seemingly harmless cross from Zeffane. It was hard to imagine the Israelis coming back into the match at this point as OL imposed their game with some excellent team play.
OL firmly maintained the upper hand as Kiryat failed to take their chances. Benzia shone up front before being replaced by Martial, who marked his entrance into play by going terribly close with a header (79') - his first touch! Ferri also was on the verge of making it 3-0 five minutes from time... Sarr went off injured... but OL held out to win 2-0 in their 200th European outing. It was a fifth group stage win in an undefeated campaign (16 points from 18)... the youngsters really stepped up... the perfect preparation for the derby...
Lyon, Stade de Gerland, ca. 30,000 spectators; referee Mr. Özkahyar (Turkey); OL 2-0 Kiryat Shmona (half-time: OL 1-0 Kiryat Shmona)
OL: Lopes – Zeffane, B. Koné, Sarr, Monzon – Fofana (cap), Ferri – Pléa (then Novillo 70'), Gourcuff (then S. Koné 46'), Bastos – Benzia (then Martial 79'). Coach: Garde.
Kiryat Shmona: Amos – Tzedek, Gabai, Vahaba, Levi – Einbinder, Sallalich, Rochet (cap) – Tasevski (then Gazal 63'), Abuhazira (then Mresat 72'), Abed (then Mizrahi 61'). Coach: Bakhar.
Goals: for OL, Sarr (14'), Benzia (58').
Yellow cards: for Kiryat Shmona, Abuhazira (27'), Tasevski (35').