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Lyon set sights high

Puel’s men revel in historic success

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The single, capitalised word “HISTORIQUE!!!” screamed out from the official Olympique Lyon website on Thursday, and history was indeed made this week, as OL reached the Champions League semi-finals for the first time. “It’s a very emotional moment and I can hardy believe it,” said club president Jean-Michel Aulas after a 1-0 defeat in the quarter-final return away to Girondins Bordeaux, enough to see Lyon through after a 3-1 win at home: “It’s extraordinary!”

Under Aulas, elected president of the club in 1987, Lyon have made rapid and impressive progress. OL earned promotion to the French top flight in 1989, and steadily established their position as future title contenders. That promise was spectacularly fulfilled at the start of the new millennium. Lyon claimed the championship for seven years in a row from 2002 to 2008, also winning the League Cup in 2001 and the French cup in 2008.

Band of friends

For all their domestic dominance, Olympique never quite lived up to their potential on the European stage. Frequently tipped as an outside bet for Champions League honours, the French side made the quarter-finals three times in the last decade, but the door to the semis remained shut until last Wednesday.

Fans poured out onto the streets of the third-biggest city in France, as skipper Cris struggled to put his elation into words: “I’ve been with Lyon a long time and I’ve seen and done a lot, but this is unforgettable.” The former Leverkusen centre-half, who switched to OL in 2004, summed up the reasons behind this season’s success: “We’ve had better squads before, but we’re mentally stronger now, because we’re a closer-knit group, we’re friends.”

Game of catch-up since Christmas

Just like Bayern, Olympique’s form in the first half of the season was patchy. They were fully 13 points off Bordeaux at the start of the calendar year, but have now overtaken the champions and lie second in Ligue 1, although games in hand elsewhere mean the situation could rapidly change. However, Claude Puel’s side have been the form team since the halfway point and are on a roll ahead of meeting Bayern.