Lyon reasserted itself as the dominant force in European women’s football in style with three first-half goals to beat holders Barcelona in a blistering Champions League final.
Striker Ada Hegerberg was the star, holding up the ball in the buildup to the first goal from Amandine Henry, scoring the second and providing an assist for the third, scored by Catarina Macário, as the usually fluid Barcelona struggled to cope with the force of Lyon on the transition and the French side’s careful game management to protect a two-goal lead, with Alexia Putellas having pulled one back, after the break.
Ahead of the final nobody was really sure what would happen in Juventus’s sunken stadium to the northeast of the city centre. Three years ago, there had been a clear gulf between the old and new money of Lyon and Barcelona, with the latter humbled. Barcelona conceded four times in 30 minutes as Lyon ran riot, spearheaded by Hegerberg, who scored a 17-minute hat-trick.
That defeat has fuelled Barcelona’s plans since, it set the benchmark the Catalan club needed to reach, and they have invested and built accordingly. A 4-0 defeat of Chelsea in last year’s final showed signs of the swagger that they had faced two years prior. But still the question remained, had they closed the gap with Europe’s dominant force?
By the 33rd minute the answer was emphatically: no. In the stifling humidity Lyon exploded to life. Within six minutes they had taken a deserved lead. In front of France national team manager Corine Diacre, Henry beat Uefa player of the year Putellas to a stray pass, edged free and sent her shot twisting into the top corner from 35 yards. It was a statement opener.
“There was women’s football before Barcelona, and it was played here for years,” Hegerberg had told L’Équipe pointedly last month, frustrated by the constant purring over the reigning European champions. “We have to win again to regain our place in world football.”
The Champions League record goalscorer talked a good talk, but it was also inevitable that she would walk the walk, because she always does. A perfect ball from Selma Bacha on the left was headed down powerfully by the Lyon forward, under a flying Mapi León and diving goalkeeper Sandra Paños. It was a 59th Champions League goal and her sixth in the final of the competition.
Hegerberg almost had a second moments later, latching on to Irene Paredes’s short backpass only for Pañosto nick the ball from her feet as she attempted to dribble around her.
The Norwegian forward would be instrumental in Lyon’s third too, linking up with Melvine Malard before teasing the ball towards US international Macário at the back post who hurried it over the line.
Three goals down with 33 minutes played is not a familiar position for the often rampant Barcelona to be in. It was the first time the Catalan side had gone two goals behind in the first half since the 2019 final and the first time they had trailed by three in any match since that final.
This was classic Lyon, fast, strong, muscular and powerful, and the Barcelona players looked only marginally less hesitant in the face of it than they had three years prior. But roared on by an extraordinary number of travelling fans, some of which had packed 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 clawed a goal back. Winger Caroline Graham Hansen, who had been kept very quiet, found a pocket of space on the right and delivered a crosstowards Putellas who swept home with the inside of her foot. The forward collected the ball and casually tossed it towards Hegerberg as she ran back towards the centre circle with a look that said: “game on”.
Hoping to insert some more energy into their attack, Barcelona manager Jonatan Giraldez swapped forward Jenni Hermoso for Asisat Oshoala. Despite a high-pressing end to the first half, Barcelona struggled to maintain the effort in the second. Their best effort came when Patricia Guijarro robbed Macário and, seeing goalkeeper Cristiane Endler off her line, lofted the ball goalward only to be denied by the crossbar.
The gap is closing, but it has not yet been bridged. Barcelona has made huge progress, enough to turn this into a rivalry that will hopefully continue to thrill.
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