SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN (REUTERS, AFP) – The loss of two key strikers would end the hopes of many teams, but with their vast array of attacking talent Olympique Lyonnais still managed to beat Wolfsburg and win a record fifth consecutive Champions League title on Sunday (Aug 30).
The French champions lost former Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg to a knee injury earlier in the season, and a red card for Nikita Parris in the semifinal against Paris St Germain saw her suspended for the final against the German champions.
“People said it was the best time to play us because we were missing so many players, but we were the best side in the first half by a long shot, and the game was almost finished at halftime,” Lyon defender Lucy Bronze said following the 3-1 win.
“We’ve definitely got the strongest squad in the world.”
Lyon were able to call on experienced forward Eugenie Le Sommer to replace Parris, and she notched a goal and assist to allow captain Wendie Renard to lift the trophy in San Sebastian once again.
It was the seventh time that French international team mates Le Sommer, Renard and goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi have been crowned club champions of Europe.
“It’s actually quite difficult to believe we have managed our fifth straight title, to be honest. We’re super proud of ourselves, it was a very difficult competition… if you sign for Lyon, you sign up to be a winner,” Bouhaddi said.
Despite Wolfsburg’s best efforts, there is little to suggest that any other European club can knock Lyon off their perch, and Renard intends to enjoy the club’s success.
“It’s hard to be a winner, you have to work extremely hard. You battle year in, year out for this trophy. We’re bringing it back. We’re bringing it back for the fans,” she said.
Japan star Saki Kumagai scored after Eugenie Le Sommer had handed the French outfit the lead in San Sebastian, giving Lyon a 2-0 half-time advantage and leaving Wolfsburg with too much to do even if Alexandra Popp did pull one back for the Germans in the second half.
Icelandic midfielder Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir’s late effort made sure of the victory for Lyon.
A fifth straight title sees them equal the feat achieved by the Real Madrid men’s team between 1956 and 1960, in the early days of the European Cup.
All of Lyon’s seven titles have come in the last decade and this latest triumph confirms their status as the finest club team around even as rivals around Europe step up their investment in the women’s game.
Jean-Luc Vasseur’s team edged out Bayern Munich 2-1 in the quarter-finals at the ‘Final Eight’ in Spain’s Basque Country, played out behind closed doors because of the coronavirus pandemic.
They then claimed a narrow 1-0 win in the semi-finals over domestic rivals PSG, the team they beat to claim a 14th successive French title earlier this year and defeated on penalties in the French Cup final.
This victory, against a Wolfsburg side who themselves claimed a German domestic double and were unbeaten in 40 games coming into the final, showcased the depth of their all-star squad.
Lyon’s long-serving president Jean-Michel Aulas continues to be rewarded for his heavy investment in a women’s team, despite the prize money for winning the Champions League being a mere 450,000 euros (S$727,000), a tiny fraction of that on offer in the men’s competition.
They are now unbeaten in 65 matches stretching back more than two years, and this is also the third time in five editions in which Lyon have beaten Wolfsburg in the final, leaving the Germans still searching for a third Champions League crown to go with their titles in 2013 and 2014.
They defeated OL in 2013, but the French side have now overcome the Germans en route to winning each of their five straight titles.