Lyon reaffirmed themselves as the dominant force in European women’s football in style with three first-half goals to beat holders Barcelona in a searing Champions League final.
Striker Ada Hegerberg was the star, holding the ball in the build-up to Amandine Henry’s first goal, scoring the second and providing an assist for the third, scored by Catarina Macario, as the usually fluid Barcelona struggled to coping with Lyon’s strength on transition and the French’ careful play management to protect a two-goal lead, Alexia having pulled one back after the break.
Ahead of the final, no one was sure what would happen in Juventus’ sunken stadium northeast of the city centre. Three years ago there was a clear chasm between old and new Lyon and Barcelona money, with the latter being humiliated. Barcelona conceded four times in 30 minutes as Lyon went wild, led by Hegerberg, who netted a 17-minute hat-trick.
That defeat has fueled Barcelona’s plans ever since, it set the benchmark the Catalan club needed to achieve, and they invested and built accordingly. A 4-0 loss to Chelsea in last year’s final showed signs of the bluster they had faced two years before. But the question still remained, had they closed the gap with the dominant force in Europe?
In the 33rd minute, the answer was categorical: no. In the stifling humidity, Lyon explodes. In six minutes, they had taken a deserved lead. In front of France national team coach Corine Deacon, Henry beat UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Alexia Putellas with a stray pass, broke free and sent her shot into the top corner from 35 yards out . It was an opening statement.
“There was women’s football before Barcelona, and it was played here for years,” Hegerberg told L’Équipe last month, frustrated by the constant hum of the reigning European champions. “We have to win again to regain our place in world football.”
The Champions League top scorer had a good chat, but it was also inevitable that she would walk on foot because she always does. A perfect ball from Selma Bacha on the left was powerfully headed by the Lyon striker, under a flying Mapi León and a diving goalkeeper Sandra Paños. It was a 59th goal in the Champions League and his sixth in the final of the competition.
Hegerberg almost had a second moments later, hanging on to Irene Paredes’ short back pass only for Pañosto to knock the ball off her feet as she tried to dribble around her.
The Norway striker would also be instrumental in Lyon’s third goal, linking up with Melvine Malard before teasing the ball towards USA international Macario at the far post who rushed it over the line.
Three goals down with 33 minutes played is an unfamiliar position for Barcelona, which is often endemic. It was the first time the Catalan side were two goals down in the first half since the 2019 final and the first time they fell behind. three in any game since that final.
It was classic Lyon, fast, strong, muscular and powerful, and the Barcelona players looked hardly less hesitant about it than they had been three years before. But spurred on by an extraordinary number of traveling supporters, some of whom had piled into 37 coaches for a 24-hour round trip, Barcelona began to control the pace of play a little better.
In the 41st minute, they recovered a goal. Winger Caroline Graham Hansen, who had been very low key, found a pocket of space on the right and fired a cross to Alexia who swept home with the inside of her foot. The striker picked up the ball and casually tossed it towards Hegerberg as she ran towards the center circle with a look that said: ‘game’.
Hoping to insert some more energy into their attack, Barcelona manager Jonatan Giraldez has swapped striker Jenni Hermoso for Asisat Oshoala. Despite a pressing end to the first half, Barcelona struggled to sustain the effort in the second. Their best effort came when Patricia Guijarro robbed Macario and, seeing goalkeeper Cristiane Endler off his line, kicked the ball towards goal only to be denied by the crossbar.
The gap is closing, but it is not yet closed. Barcelona have made tremendous progress, enough to make this a rivalry that will hopefully continue to delight.
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