More often than not, it is said that the odds favour the brave. That however is an oversimplification. In games as important as the UEFa Women’s Champions LEague final, the truth is that the odds favour the more experienced. For the fifth season in a row and the seventh time in their history Lyon won the competition, beating Wolfsburg 3-1 culminating the UEFA season more than a year after it begun.
Lyon showed their dominance right from the opening whistle and Wolfsburg struggled to get any possession of the ball in those opening minutes. They wouldn’t have been wrong if they expected a long night ahead. The game was always going to be a clash of styles, Lyon the passing, fluid, movement based team and Wolfsburg the more direct counter attacking one. But the difference in those opening minutes was stark. Lyon were missing their lynchpin upfront — Nikita Parris suspended for the final — but if anything that meant Eugenie Le Sommer was given a start and at many levels the Frenchwoman is more than just a goalscorer..
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When Lyon did get their breakthrough, it came via Le Sommer, but all the effort in that goal was from their right flank, and the woman leaving burn marks on the grass at the Anoeta — Delphine Cascarino. She had been brutal in the semi final against PSG, everywhere at all times and in the final she kept that up. It was her run and cut back that found Le Sommer, whose first shot was saved weakly by Friederike Abt. The rebound fell into the path of the Frenchwoman and she slotted it in. Lyon were doing what they usually do.
Wolfsburg lost a defender soon after, Sara Doorsoun-Khajeh, twisting her knee badly when overrun by Cascerinho. Her replacement, Dominique Janssen did well to keep Cascerinho quiet. Well, relatively.
To credit Cascerinho for the second goal would be overstating things. The Frenchwoman did make the run, showed some exceptional skill to open up Wolfsburg’s defense and put the cross in, but the events that occurred after would’ve been fine on any other day. The clearance fell to Amel Majri at the edge of their box. Majri turned and twisted before another hacked clearance fell into the path of Saki Kumagai, a Japanese defender turned holding midfielder known for her discipline perhaps but not exactly for her skill.
Kumagai is a self confessed Homare Sawa fan. As every footballer in Japan should be. What she did in the minute before halftime in this final can be considered a homage to the Japanese legend then. The ball fell into her path with no real pace, or angle. But Kumagai adjusted, hop-skipping in place as if she was at the beginning of a run up before slotting an inch perfect shot into the bottom corner of Wolfsburg goal. It was halftime and Lyon were two up.
Stephen Lerch’s half time team talk must have been of value, because in the second half Wolfsburg came out with more energy and started exerting more pressure on Lyon. They were controlling the pace of the game and even though they struggled to break through the Lyon line of defence, they kept the holders on edge.
The move that got them their goal came via Pernille Harder, who dribbled her way towards the Lyon box before passing the ball to Fridolina Rolfö on the left. Rolfo’s cross found Ewa Pajor, who lofted it to Alexandra Popp to head it into the net from close range.
Lyon suddenly looked vulnerable, and tired and frail. Wolfsburg were up for the biggest comeback in ages. And they pushed further and further up. And that is where experience comes in. Lyon put bodies behind the ball, and kept launching counters with enough pace to keep Wolfsburg wary.
In the dying minutes of the game, Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir, the Icelander who joined them from Wolfsburg in July (and would’ve been eligible for a medal regardless of who won the final) stuck a foot out at a Le Sommer volley. The ball crashed into the net and Lyon were home. Gunnarsdottir refused to celebrate out of deference for the club that housed her till last month, but her teammates didn’t care.
Very soon, they were all pouring on to the pitch, the team that cannot be beaten, winning again, an unbelievable fifth Champions League in a row. They have now won seven, as many as everyone else put together. And who else would lift that trophy by Wendie Renard, the woman who has won literally every title Lyon have won. This team is built on strong foundations. Four members of the squad have won every one of the club’s Champions League titles. One has won every title they ever have. They may be losing players this summer — the quietly brilliant Lucy Bronze, the biggest outlay — but they set the standard in Europe.
If there is a team to emulate it is this French side, one that has lit up the way for the women’s game, and continues to reap its benefits. In the years to come they will be challenged. More so, with the big clubs putting big money into their women teams. But that is no guarantee of success. Experience is. And with experience comes legacy. For Lyon these five titles in a row only embellish them.
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