A single goal from captain Wendie Renard was enough for Lyon to beat Paris Saint-Germain and reach their fifth consecutive UEFA Women’s Champions League final. The defending champions will face VfL Wolfsburg in the summit clash on August 30.
Lyon are for very valid reasons considered the best women’s team in Europe — by a margin. The club has for many years not just propagated but also practiced gender equality in the game, using the same training facilities, stadium and infrastructure for both the men and the women. There is a legendary story from 2017, about how Alexander Lacazette went for a medical check up before his eventual transfer to Arsenal. During the check up, the doctor asked the striker which club he played for and upon hearing Lyon, replied, ‘Oh I didn’t know Lyon had a men’s team.’
Also Read | Para Sports in India: Sidelined Despite the Spotlight | Tokyo Paralympics Special
The story may be an exaggeration, but the sentiment isn’t. The men’s team were duly lauded for their brilliant run to the semifinals of the Champions League. It was a brilliant underdog story, the tale of a French team without the riches but all the verve. The coin flips on the women’s side of the game. This team is no underdog. Lyon’s women have won the Champions League six times in their history. They have won it four years in a row as it stands right now. They were clear favourites for the game against PSG, having also beaten them nine times in their least ten meetings, the latest in the French Cup earlier this month — Lyon won on penalties — and hadn’t lost a game in the Champions League in six years.
PSG had got this far having dismissed Arsenal in the quarter final on the back of a superlative performance. In this encounter though, for large periods they were less concerned with making play than they were with ensuring they broke up Lyon’s.
Also Read | UEFA Women’s Champions League: VfL Wolfsburg Beat Barcelona Femeni, Enter Final
It was a testy game right from the start with both sides drawing more fouls than chances, and despite Lyon’s slick passing and movement, PSG never really allowed the champions to settle down. The best opportunities of the first half were all courtesy Delphine Cascerino, the Frenchwoman’s speed and agility, a threat for PSG right till the time she was withdrawn. Cascerino may have been blazing through Lyon’s wings but in truth, there was no one in the box to convert all the chances she created. Ada Hegerberg’s long term injury had thrust Nikita Parris into the spotlight, but the English striker was never quite a threat in the game.
Parris was hounded and denied space for a huge chunk of the game, appealing to the referee at one point for protection. For her protests though she received a yellow card — one that would prove crucial to proceedings later.
Lyon’s game when it came was courtesy a dead ball, the foul count rising and ensuring there was only way to play the game. Grace Geyoro had picked up her first yellow in a confrontation with Amel Majri, and when she brought down Lucy Bronze with a cynical tackle, her marching orders arrived. From the freekick, Majri does what she does best, floating in a superb delivery right on to the head of Renard, who slotted it into the near corner to break the PSG resistance. It was the defender’s 103rd goal for the club in her 19th Champions League semi final. Make sense of those numbers if you can.
Not much after Geyoro’s sending off, the head count had evened up again, Parris this time clearly at fault when tripping Christiane Endler in the PSG goal. She had her head in her hands the moment she heard the referee’s whistle, the red card ensuring she will have no part to play in Sunday’s final. But Lyon will be there.
They were nervous at the end, tired too, blocking and hacking clear all PSG attacks rather than construct some of their own. PSG’s Kadidiatou Diani came into her own in those final excruciating moments, but Lyon were not to be denied. The best club in women’s football are going for what is, in social media parlance, called a fivepeat. It may not have been pretty, and probably won’t be on Sunday either, but then, the beauty of victory is in the eyes of the cup holder.
Read more sports stories from Newsclick