Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Champions League: Lyon v Real Madrid

We’ve been here before. A year ago at this time, France’s five-years-in-a-row Ligue 1 champs Olympique Lyonnais beat Real Madrid 3-0 in the opening match of the Champions League group stage. Today, in their opening Group E match, the two European titans met up again and it was all a bit familiar yet, depending on your inclination, thrilling.

I was completely neutral for this match, though my dislike of Real Madrid certainly had me swaying a little toward Lyon. In all honesty, I couldn’t have cared less about them either since my soft allegiance has always leaned more toward Marseille. But the combination of watching Juninho, Malouda, Cris, Govou, Tiago, and Fred (the latter two responsible for the two first-half goals) play with the type of determination and zealousness that propels a team to decisive victory, and also wins over neutrals in the process, had me glued to the screen when I was supposed to be doing some much-needed work. They looked hungry, as the cliché goes, and appeared ready to hoist up that monstrously huge cup come May. Well, okay, they weren’t that good—but they still looked strong enough to make it to the quarter-finals before flaming out.

Lyon has dominated Ligue 1 like no French team before them, rivaling the great Marseille team of the late-1980s and early-1990s that won four Ligue 1 titles and went on to win the Champions League cup in 1993 or the Saint-Etienne team of the mid-to-late 1960s that then led the pack. But despite Lyon’s ascendancy to the top of their home table, they have still yet to get any farther than the quarter-finals in the European competition. Will that change this year? I wouldn’t dare make a prediction like that (I don’t even know if my beloved Barca can repeat; it’s simply way too early to tell). I will make one prediction, though, and it’s a pretty obvious one at that—Real Madrid doesn’t have a chance in hell. Sluggish, hesitant, and despite controlling the ball more than Lyon, Madrid was incapable of controlling the rhythm and their shots on goal rarely tested the French keeper, Gregory Coupet. And when Lyon consistently broke through Madrid’s defense, the enraged victims lashed out with a grinding cleat in the ankle here and a petulant elbow or shove there. The end result may’ve been only 2-0, but Lyon could’ve easily slotted in a few more, sending the bloated Galacticos back to the Bernabeu to prepare for their second-leg defeat which will occur on September 26th.

Up until the last World Cup, I never paid much attention to Juninho (but I’ve never paid much attention to Lyon either for that matter). And now I’m sorry for my mistake. This serious-minded Brazilian midfielder with a gift for the blistering free kick was a joy to watch, as was the man whose name will one day grace the lips of every citizen of the world, Fred. Oh yes, Fred. One day, people will name their children after . . . wait, strike that. Well, I’m sure you’ll get a statue erected after you or perhaps an airport or a bridge. You may not have the snappiest or the coolest moniker to emblazon the back of a kit, but you certainly give Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink a run for his money for the most memorable.


linda said...

It's actually quite sickening the venomous criticism still being directed Riquelme's way even now. He's a man, not a machine, and some people don't seem to get that. Still, as you said, I'll remember him for his artistry.

Lisa said...

It's the Beckham Madness. Have too many moments of utter brilliance and you cross a crazy Rubicon beyond which every time your brilliance falters it's held against against you with increasing vehemence until at last you retire in hurt confusion. I hope he's not gone for good, Riquelme...I hope he misses it and comes back...