French clash, Brazilian flavour
Though the UEFA Champions League quarter-final tie between Lyon and Bordeaux will be classed as an all-French affair, the fact that no fewer than six Brazilian players are expected to take the field for Tuesday’s first leg at the Stade Gerland confirms a prevailing trend at Ligue 1’s top clubs. Indeed, the encounter between reigning champions Bordeaux and Lyon, winners of the previous seven titles, illustrates just how French football’s faith in samba stars has been repaid.
Les Gones’ remarkable dominance over the past decade was due in no small measure to the influence of Brazilian trio Juninho Pernambucano, Sonny Anderson and Cris. And the latter, made captain upon Juninho’s departure in summer 2009, still has two countrymen for company in the shape of Michel Bastos and Ederson. Over in Les Girondins’ camp, Fernando’s signing in 2005 helped open the door for the subsequent arrivals of Wendel, Jussie and Henrique, all of whom played their part last season in the club’s first league crown in ten years.
“It’s good to meet up with the Brazilian lads again. We know each other and get on well, but once the game’s under way we all fight in our own corners,” midfielder Wendel told FIFA.com ahead of a tie which guarantees one Ligue 1 club a place in the final four of the Champions League. “It’s going to be interesting. Both teams have a tradition of bringing in Brazilian players. It’s important to see that in Europe.”
Luck of the draw?
“Playing against a team from the same country (in the Champions League) will be strange,” said Lyon skipper Cris. “We’re used to taking on teams from other countries with different styles and different languages, but against Bordeaux everything will be similar.”
“I didn’t want to be drawn against Lyon, I would have preferred Inter Milan,” chipped in Fernando. “The charm of the Champions League is in coming up against different teams, and we know Lyon well. The game’s going to be very much in the French style: fast and hard-hitting. I think that it’s the easiest draw the two teams could have had because we’ve both got a 50-per cent chance of going through.”
The stats would appear to back up Fernando’s claim, with Lyon’s greater experience of eight consecutive seasons in the elite club competition counterbalanced by Bordeaux’s confidence from a run of seven victories in a row. In historical terms, the pair are also extremely well-matched, given Les Girondins have won 32 of the teams’ meetings to Les Gones’ 31.
The big time awaits
Despite Lyon’s serial Champions League sorties in recent seasons, they are still to break through the glass ceiling of the quarter-finals. But having avoided the likes of Inter, Barcelona and Manchester United, coach Claude Puel’s charges will feel that Laurent Blanc’s side are distinctly beatable, especially after Lyon knocked out big-spending Real Madrid to reach this stage.
Moreover, in ending the hopes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Co at the Santiago Bernabeu, Lyon showed themselves capable of performing in the most adverse of situations. “Lisandro [Lopez] doesn’t speak much French, but he asked me to pass a message on,” said Cris, looking back at the 1-1 draw in Madrid which sealed a 2-1 aggregate success. “He said that they (Real Madrid) were a bit too mouthy and that really spurred us on. Our squad are doers, not talkers. We can see in each other’s eyes that we all want to do our bit.”
Though Les Gones are still in a rebuilding phase following the end of the “Juninho era”, players like Jean II Makoun and Miralem Pjanic, scorers against Los Blancos, hint at a positive future. “We’ve got versatile players and more options (than before). That’s why we’re on the right track. We’ve laid the foundations in order to go as far as we possibly can (in the Champions League). We’re much better prepared,” added Cris.
And the fact the tournament’s final will be held at the site of one of the club’s most historic results is an extra motivating factor. “Yes, we are dreaming of reaching the final and going back to the Bernabeu. That’s a lucky hunting ground for Lyon,” said midfielder Ederson.
Experience and stability
Over in the Bordeaux camp, the club’s unbeaten run to the last eight of the Champions League has been a shock to many, even the Girondins players themselves. “A seven-match winning streak this campaign is a real surprise. The fact we’re more experienced has made the difference. In previous years we’ve been beaten heavily by Chelsea [4-0 in 2008/09] and Liverpool [3-0 in 2006/07] but we’re not in awe of anybody now,” said Fernando.
“We’re really pleased. This is the result of work put in over the last two years or more,” added his team-mate Wendel. “Of course the arrival of [Yoann] Gourcuff and [Laurent] Blanc gave the team added impetus, but we’ve got players who’ve been here for the last four or five years and that’s a real plus.”
Despite their performances in this year’s competition, there are still sizeable obstacles to both teams’ trophy ambitions, as Fernando admitted. “We’ve got the right to dream of playing in the final at the Bernabeu. But I still think Barcelona and Manchester [United] are the favourites,” he said.