Olympique Lyonnais coach Remi Garde had words of relief after securing third spot in Ligue 1 and a UEFA Champions League qualifying place next term by seeing off Stade Rennais FC 2-0 on the final day of the season.
Requiring a win to be sure of third place, Lyon went ahead after 23 minutes as Lisandro scored from the spot following Onyekachi Apam's handball in the area. Garde's side then made certain of the result when Clément Grenier struck a superb free-kick with 21 minutes remaining.
"It's satisfying, reaching that target was not obvious," said Garde, whose team had led the way in January. "The job is done after a tough season. We managed to bounce back on several occasions, in particular after enduring a series of three losses [in late March and early April]. Congratulations to the players. Few tipped us to make podium, the players proved the critics wrong."
It was Grenier who embodied Lyon's late charge, with crucial free-kick goals in the last two games. The first was the equaliser with 14 minutes left at OGC Nice last week, and then on Sunday his strike from 25 metres out bounced in off the crossbar, drawing comparisons with Lyon's former set-piece master Juninho Pernambucano.
"I have found something and that's great for the team," Grenier said. "We're happy to be in Champions League again."
Having seen a run of 12 straight UEFA Champions League group participations end this season after finishing fourth in Ligue 1 this time last year, Lyon must still win two ties to return in 2013/14. They will begin in the third qualifying round, rather than the play-offs, due to France's slip behind Portugal in the UEFA rankings, but that is not a problem for Garde.
"It's one more round," he said. "We'll do fewer warm-up games. We'll do everything to be ready and get back in the group stage. From a sporting point of view, there is nothing better."
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