Nothing came easy on Wednesday as Lyon battled their way to a 2-0 win over Avaldsnes in the Champions League’s Round of 32. It wasn’t the lopsided result we might have anticipated, but two second half goals mean les Fenottes have one foot in the next round after a frustrating afternoon.
On paper, Avaldsnes looked like easy pickings for the Champions League holders. The Norwegian side last picked up a win on August 10, and are buried in 9th place in the Toppserien table. But ten minutes went by without Lyon getting on the board, and then a half hour, and before we knew it, the halftime whistle blew with the match still scoreless and a lot of eyebrows raised.
The second half began much the way the first 45 minutes had gone. Lyon dominated possession and kept Avaldsnes pinned in their defensive half, but every cross into the box seemed to land on the foot of a Norwegian player, a dozen corners were quickly cleared, and even the more promising attacks ended with the ball trickling into the hands of the Avaldsnes keeper.
Finally, on approximately the 127th corner kick of the afternoon for Lyon (estimating roughly), les Fenottes broke through. Selma Bacha whipped a fastball into the near post, and Amandine Henry tucked in home with a neat header past the goalkeeper. Lyon were finally ahead in the 50th minute, and everybody exhaled.
But if you thought the opening goal would also open the floodgates, you were in for more frustration. The match lingered at 1-0, and we had to wonder if Avaldsnes would join rarefied company like PSG, Manchester City, and FC Barcelona in holding the champs to such a narrow victory.
Lyon specializes in making opponents pay for mistakes, though, and in the 77th minute, the Norwegian defensive block broke down for just a moment. Eugénie Le Sommer found the ball in space down the wing, and Amel Majri (have we mentioned she’s on fire?) outraced her defender down the middle of the field to put it in the back of the net. That’s five goals in three games for Majri, if you’re keeping track at home.
Les Fenottes now take a two goal advantage back to Lyon for the second leg, and it’s hard to imagine Avaldsnes rebounding from that deficit. No one is really complaining about a win and another clean sheet. But Ada Hegerberg would have hoped for a happier homecoming to her native Norway (she was quiet much of the game), and Coach Pedros wasn’t thrilled with what he saw from the team.
Full credit to Avaldsnes—they defended desperately in the box, worked hard to take the ball off Lyon in one-on-one duels, and kept up the physical play throughout the match. But Lyon will see this type of entrenched defense again and again throughout the year, and it’s not clear that they’ve found a good strategy to break through as of yet. It appears the team’s current approach is simply to swing in a hundred or so crosses and fifty or so corners and figure something will hit the back of the net eventually.
That paid off on Wednesday when Henry finally got OL on the board, but it won’t every time. Look no further than Lyon’s 1-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage in July for an example. With Dzsenifer Marozsan still recovering from a pulmonary embolism and Camille Abily onto new adventures in retirement, Lyon are still looking for a creative force that can unlock these low defensive blocks. The sooner they find it, the better.
OL can take some comfort in the fact that it was a tough night throughout Europe for many of the Champions League favorites. English champions Chelsea cruised to a 5-0 victory over SFK 2000 Sarajevo, but last year’s Champions League runners up VfL Wolfsburg only managed a 1-0 win over Icelandic champs Thor/KA.
The runaway shock result of the day, though, came from Kazakhstan, where BIIK Kazygurt (who Lyon thumped 16-0 on aggregate last year) defeated FC Barcelona by a 3-1 score. Toni Duggan’s late goal means Barcelona still have a fair chance to advance with a good showing on their home leg, but for anyone who thought the favorites could sleepwalk to the Champions League quarterfinals next spring, Wednesday was a good wake up call.
Lyon face Avaldsnes in the second leg of the Round of 32 on Thursday, September 27, at the Groupama OL Training Center. Kickoff is at 18:30 local time (12:30 pm ET). Next up on OL’s schedule is a D1 Féminine tie away at EA Guingamp on Sunday, September 16, at 15:00 local time. Last year, Lyon picked up a 5-0 victory on Guingamp’s home turf. Guingamp have yet to record a win this season, falling 2-0 to Paris FC and drawing 1-1 with Dijon. They currently sit in 10th place.
[Top photo via UEFA Women’s Champions League on Twitter]