By John Burn-Murdoch
Over 14,000 fans were at Craven Cottage on Thursday night and all were treated to a thoroughly entertaining 90 minutes of football as Patrice Lair’s Olympique Lyonnais Féminin became the first ever French club to lift the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
Pre-match favourites Turbine Potsdam struggled to get into any sort of rhythm over the course of the match and Lyon’s excellent use of the flanks was the main difference between the two sides as they came away with a fully deserved 2-0 win.
As the two sides lined up before kick-off each had a notable absentee. For the German champions, Japanese international striker Yūki Nagasato missed out through injury, while one of Lyon’s main goal threats, Eugénie Le Sommer was left out of the starting eleven with Elodie Thomis slotting in on the right wing in her stead.
The opening minutes were evenly contested , with both sides careful not to take early risks, but it wasn’t long before the first spark of action came. Potsdam’s Tabea Kemme found just enough space on the left to swing over a cross, and when Isabl Kerschovski met it at the far post on the volley the travelling Lyon support must have collectively held their breath for an instant. Their concern was short lived; however, as goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi reacted well to keep out the shot.
A lot of the pre-match talk had been about Potsdam’s number ten, Fatmire Bajramaj, who was playing her last game for the club before her agreed move to Frankfurt, but the creative midfielder was struggling to get into her stride. Much credit must go to Lyon’s defence who were giving her as little time on the ball as possible, but even when in possession Bajramaj was only able to have fleeting impacts on the game before she found herself crowded out by a sea of navy blue shirts.
The next real opening came on the quarter-of-an-hour mark, when Lyon’s Louisa Necib swung in a corner which crashed back of the near post, brining the Lyon fans into full voice. This marked the beginning of a period of dominance for the French side who were beginning to make real headway down their right flank. Right back Wendie Renard was doing an excellent job defensively but was also able to get forward in support of Thomis, and the two combined to great effect on a number of occasions. In one particular flowing move, Renard came over the half way line and found Camille Abily, who exchanged passes with Thomis before slipping the ball to Lotta Schelin whose driven effort found only the side netting.
Playing as a lone centre forward for Lyon, Schelin was constantly mobile, seeking out space in which to receive the ball, and as the first half progressed she looked increasingly dangerous. A rasping shot from the right hand corner of the penalty area drew a save from Potsdam stopper Anna Felicitas Sarholz and at the midway point in the first period Lyon looked to be well on top.
With the half hour mark approaching Lyon’s pressure paid off as they went ahead. Fantastic footwork from Thomis saw her slip past the attentions of her marker before putting in a low cross which was blocked behind for a corner with Schelin waiting in the middle. Lyon captain Sonia Bompastor took the set-piece and after Sarholz parried from Schelin, Renard was on hand to fire home from close range.
Within moments of the restart it looked as though the event of conceding the goal may have finally kicked Potsdam into life. Anja Mittag collected a deft flick from Bajramaj, burst past two defenders and shaped to shoot, but was thwarted at the last by Laura Georges. Unfortunately for the German fans; however, this proved to be something of a false dawn and sure enough Lyon were encamped in the Potsdam half again within minutes.
Schelin and Thomis continued to provide Lyon’s main threat and having noted Sarholz’s unease with handling crosses, Lair’s side began testing her weakness at every opportunity. With half time approaching, an excellent display of perseverance and technique saw Thomis emerge from amidst three red shirts with possession, before whipping in a cross which Sarholz flapped at unconvincingly, leaving her centre back to spare her blushes with a hurried clearance.
At the other end the contrast could hardly have been starker. Bouhaddi looked utterly assured and made two excellent claims from crosses as the first period drew to a close at 1-0.
During the break Bernd Schröder had evidently taken his side to task over their muted first half performance and Potsdam began the second half with a real urgency to their play. Bajramaj was finding the ball more frequently and always looked to be on the verge of creating a breakthrough, while Mittag and Viola Odebrecht were beginning to get some joy on their left flank.
It was Lyon; however, who had the first clear cut chance of the second period, but Thomis could only scuff a weak shot at Sarholz when sent clear by Schelin after a quick break.
Ten minutes into the second period Lyon made the first change of the match, replacing Louisa Necib with Lara Dickenmann on the left side of their forward line. The injection of fresh pace into their attack had an immediate effect and a Dickenmann cross was glanced just wide of the far post by Schelin.
Potsdam began to make inroads further up the pitch as the second half progressed, and were close to equalising when Kerschowski’s low shot was saved by Bouhaddi’s outstretched right foot. Moments later they were presented with the clearest chance of the match by far, but the score remained 1-0 when Mittag ill-advisedly elected to control the ball two yards out when faced with an open goal. Having got the ball onto her favoured right foot she was dispossessed and Lyon hurriedly cleared.
Having avoided what looked to have been a certain goal, Lyon grew in confidence and Abily began to stamp her authority on proceedings from midfield. The 26 year-old was able to slow the game down with ease and began spreading the play out to the flanks with a calm precision that belied the enormity of the occasion.
With players tiring the game was really opening up as the second period went on, and with around twenty minutes remaining, Lair made his second change, replacing the excellent Thomis with Le Sommer. Again the change gave Lyon impetus and suited their increasingly counter attacking approach perfectly, with fresh legs offering outlets on either side of their attacking triumvirate. Schelin was also still full of running and with ten minutes remaining her deflected cross almost found Dickenmann, only for Sarholz to intercept in the nick of time.
Potsdam’s reprieve was only temporary; though, and with five minutes to remain the French portion of the crowd erupted as Dickenmann fired home emphatically to seal the victory. Le Sommer broke down the right and put in a perfectly measured cross which found her fellow substitute unmarked at the far post. Dickenmann had time to control the ball and then struck a rising drive across Sarholz and into the far corner of the goal.
Potsdam frantically searched for a way back into the match in the closing stages but were unable to trouble Bouhaddi as they once again ran out of ideas in the final third. At the sound of the whistle the Lyon players huddled in the centre of the pitch, and the sheer joy of their celebrating underlined just how much the victory meant for Lair and his side. Having lost the same fixture last year on penalties this must have been the sweetest of sweet revenge.
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