By Pete Sanderson in Lyon
Back in September, few would have believed that only a home game with Real Sociedad de Fútbol would stand between Olympique Lyonnais and a place in the last eight of the UEFA Champions League.
Lyon's elegant brand of football has reaped significant reward on the domestic front in recent seasons, but seldom delivered when their mission has taken them to foreign climes. This year, however, it has been a different story.
After topping Group A ahead of FC Bayern München, Celtic FC and RSC Anderlecht, the French champions went into the first leg of their tie against Real at the Anoeta in good heart. That optimism proved fully justified as an own goal from Gabriel Schurrer ensured Paul Le Guen's team became the first European side since Liverpool FC in 1975 to win at the ground.
Le Guen, whose reputation as a coach in France is growing as quickly as Lyon's list of admirers, insists there is still plenty of work to be done, however, if his side are to secure a place in the quarter-finals.
"We have a slight advantage going into this match but we will not take Real lightly," he said. "The away goal will help but
Real are a wonderful side, particularly going forward. They proved how dangerous they can be when they hit the crossbar in the final few minutes of the game in San Sebastian and I expect them to put us under the same kind of pressure again."
One of the key figures in Lyon's march to the knockout stages has been Brazilian international Juninho Pernambucano. An exquisite passer who possesses a ferocious free-kick, the right-sided midfield player has been a revelation in the Champions League this season, and is confident Lyon can complete the job at the Stade Gerland, despite defensive worries following Claudio Caçapa's knee operation and persistent doubts over the fitness of Anthony Réveillère.
It will be a very attacking game," the 29-year-old told uefa.com. "When we play at home we always try to take the game to our opponents and it will be no different on Tuesday. Being in this situation is a new experience for most of us at Lyon but we are keen to show the rest of Europe that we can compete with the best."
Real have defensive problems of their own. Reserve goalkeeper Alberto López steps in for Dutchman Sander Westerveld, who is out for two months after breaking his finger in the first leg. Captain Agustín Aranzabal broke his nose against Albacete Balompié on 29 February and also will not figure.
Coach Raynald Denoueix has every right to bemoan his recent poor fortune. Not only has he lost two key players, his side are unfortunate not to arrive in France on level terms after Valery Karpin hit the bar in the closing moments in San Sebastian with a spectacular effort. Real also forced 12 corners – twice as many as their French opponents. Nevertheless, with Lyon most people's favourites to advance, Denoueix believes side could take advantage.
It is tough to protect a one-goal lead," the Real coach insisted. "If you tell your side to play defensively and concede an early goal you can find yourself in big trouble. But I think Lyon will attack as that is what they do best. We will hope to get an early goal and then there is everything to play for."
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