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UEFA Women's Champions League

Why Lyon’s first Women’s Champions League exit in seven years isn’t the beginning of the end

17:00 BST 19/04/2021
PSG Lyon composite
Paris Saint-Germain knocked their French rivals out of Europe on Sunday, their first exit since defeat to the same club way back in 2014

“I have to say, I was sick of always losing in this kind of scenario here,” said Grace Geyoro.

The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder had just helped her side record their first win away at Lyon since 2014, sending a rocket of a shot into the top corner to spark the Parisians’ comeback in their Women's Champions League quarter-final win over their domestic rivals.

Before Sunday’s 2-1 victory, PSG had lost on their last seven visits to Lyon. They had scored no goals in that time, while Lyon had netted 23.

This result not only sent PSG through to the semi-finals of Europe's premier club competition as they won the last-eight tie on away goals after a 2-2 aggregate scoreline, it saw Lyon knocked out of the competition for the first time in seven years.

PSG also beat them in the last 16 in the 2014-15 season, but Lyon have gone onto win the Champions League every year since. This time around, whether it is PSG, Chelsea, Bayern Munich or Barcelona, there will be a new name on the trophy.

With the Parisians also top of the French league, it feels like a huge moment. But it is unlikely to be a moment that signals the beginning of the end for one of the greatest teams in sporting history.

Sunday’s defeat itself came following the unprecedented circumstances that the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown up.

This game should have been played on April 1, but was pushed back after a coronavirus outbreak in the Lyon squad, meaning many at the club spent the last two weeks in isolation before the rearranged fixture.

“Covid-19 surely played a role,” Lyon defender Kadeisha Buchanan said after the defeat. “For 15 days, we weren't together. This is not the reason why we lost, but it had its influence.”

“The game might have been different if we had been able to recover physically,” added goalscorer Catarina Macario, while head coach Jean-Luc Vasseur touched upon how his team lacked “good preparation” for the match.

That is not to take anything away from PSG. The mental strength they showed to come back from a 1-0 defeat in their home leg of this tie, as well as after falling a further goal behind four minutes into the away leg, was absolutely incredible given their record in Lyon.

They have built a fantastic side to challenge their biggest rivals, one littered with world-class names such as Marie Antoinette-Katoto, the goal-scoring sensation who ranked at No.23 in Goal 50 in 2020, and Christiane Endler, who made an incredible stoppage-time save to ensure PSG’s victory.

Katoto is just one of the many young talents in this group, alongside the likes of Geyoro, Sandy Baltimore, Signe Bruun and Jordyn Huitema. The future is extremely bright for this team, who have overcome a psychological hurdle that has troubled the club for many years.

The future, however, remains bright for Lyon, with the fallen European champions remaining the go-to destination for so many top players.

In the past 12 months alone, they have signed the likes of Ellie Carpenter, the 20-year-old who promises to be the best right-back in the world; Catarina Macario, the U.S. women's national team's generational talent; Sakina Karchaoui, the young full-back who shone in last year’s Champions League triumph; and Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir, the experienced Icelandic midfielder who has proven herself as one of the best around.

The recently established link with Reign FC in the United States, rebranded as OL Reign, may see some of their stalwarts move across the pond in the near future, but this squad is still one to be feared the world over.

Sunday's defeat may, instead, serve as a wake-up call.

Despite injuries playing their part, it felt like Lyon were not at their best in 2020, even though they went on to win the treble once again.

They have long set the bar in women’s football and now clubs are closing that gap. For a team and a club with their mentality, overcoming the growing challenges of those around them will be something they relish and not shy away from.

This defeat will also serve as great motivation. The three seasons between Lyon’s second and third Champions League titles did as much.

Reflecting on that period, Eugenie Le Sommer, the club’s all-time top goalscorer, told Goal in November: “I remember watching the quarter-finals, the semi-finals, the final, at home. I said: ‘I don’t want to watch it again on my TV. I want to play these games’. It was a motivation for me, it was for the team too. This experience made us better and stronger in our mentality.”

This moment will be a turning point for PSG and particularly encouraging as they bid to win a first ever league title this year.

But, rather than it signalling a bad spell for Lyon, it could also be a turning point that can ignite a rivalry that has long been rather one-sided.